South Carolina voters – or at least handfuls of them – went to the polls on June 24th for runoff elections in 11 state legislative elections two weeks after the June 10th initial round. In the district number 4 democratic runoff for State House of Representatives, Paul Corden won a majority with fewer than 7,800 votes after falling short of a majority in early June with 14,968 votes. Overall, turnout declined by more than 48% in his runoff, and declined by at least 20% in nine other runoffs for state office held by Republicans and Democrats. South Carolina taxpayers likely spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on these runoffs; North Carolina’s statewide runoff the same day (one drawing turnout of less than 2% of registered voters) cost $5 million.
FairVote’s executive director Rob Richie commented, “Ensuring winners of party nominations are not opposed by a majority of primary voters is a laudable goal. But the delayed, two-round runoff used in South Carolina isn’t working. It’s time to follow the suggestion of Senators John McCain and Barack Obama and adopt instant runoff voting in South Carolina.”
With instant runoff voting, voters have the option to rank candidates in order of preference rather than select only one choice. If no candidate receives a first choice majority, the two candidates with the most votes advance to the runoff. Ballots cast for eliminated candidates are added to the totals of the runoff candidates according to which candidate is ranked next on each ballot.
Instant runoff ballots have already been used by overseas and military voters during traditional runoffs in South Carolina since 2006. FairVote’s analysis of the 2006 elections shows high comprehension of the new system. In the eight counties where both Democratic and Republican voters had runoff elections, the valid ballot rate in the runoff was fully 100% -- with all of these voters returning an instant runoff ballot casting valid ballots.
More than a dozen American cities have passed instant runoff voting or stated to use it. Sen. Barack Obama was the prime sponsor of Illinois legislation in 2002 to establish it for primaries, while Sen. John McCain that year recorded a phone announcement to support instant runoff voting in Alaska. Its advantages over delayed runoffs include: 1) less money spent on running elections; 2) fewer demands for candidates on raising money; 3) higher turnout in one election.
FairVote is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that studies the impact of electoral rules and systems on turnout, representation and electoral competition. To view more on instant runoff voting, visit http://www.instantrunoff.com and www.fairvote.org/irv and call (301) 270-4616.
VOTER TURNOUT IN SOUTH CAROLINA RUNOFFS, JUNE 24, 2008 *
|Runoff||Winner|| Percent Decline in Turnout
| State Senate District 10 - REP
|| Dee Compton
| State Senate District 12 - REP
|| Lee Bright
| State Senate District 13 - REP
|| Shane Martin
| State Senate District 23 - REP
|| Jake Knotts
| State House District 79 - REP
|| David Herndon
| State Senate District 81 - REP
|| Tom Young
| State House District 04 - DEM
|| Paul Corden
| State Senate District 17 - DEM
|| Creighton B Coleman
| State House District 101 - DEM
|| Kenneth Ken Kennedy
| State House District 111 - DEM
|| Wendell G Gilliard
| State House District 122 - DEM
|| Curtis Brantley
*Data for runoffs is preliminary, but reflects 100% of precincts reporting.