Runoff Elections in the United States

By Charles S. Bullock III; Loch K. Johnson | Go to book overview

6

Runoffs and Voting Rates

By its very nature, the majority-vote system necessitates two elections that occur in close proximity, with the runoff normally coming one to four weeks after the first primary. The need to vote a second time increases the cost of political participation and, therefore, can sometimes reduce turnout in the second primary. Alternatively, in the still largely one-party South, the second primary has narrowed multicandidate fields to the two most viable candidates, thereby providing an added incentive for voters to return to the polls for the climactic ballot.

Presumably, the supporters of the two candidates who make it into the runoff will try to overcome whatever costs the second election involves and turn out in large numbers for the final effort to achieve victory. Some commentators have even suggested that when there is a large field, a certain percentage of voters will intentionally sit out the initial primary on the assumption that the decisive choice of nominees will come in the runoff. When black turnout in the 1990 Georgia Democratic primary proved disappointing, a black leader with strong ties to Jesse Jackson offered this explanation: "A lot of black voters, I think, felt like the real action was going to be in the runoff. People were just assuming that [black gubernatorial candidate] Andy [Young] had a spot in the runoff." 1

Sometimes surges in runoff turnout have been attributed to voters eager to defeat a candidate they thought would never make it to the second round. Newspaper coverage of a 1990 race for a superior court judgeship in Georgia provides an example. According to an Atlanta Constitution reporter, a black candidate lost in two key rural counties when the turnout rose by more than

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Runoff Elections in the United States
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Runoff Elections in the United States *
  • Contents *
  • Tables *
  • Preface *
  • Acknowledgments *
  • 1 - Introduction *
  • 2 - Myths of the Runoff *
  • 3 - Legal Challenges to the Runoff *
  • 4 - Race and the Runoff *
  • 5 - The North Carolina "Threshold" Experiment *
  • 6 - Runoffs and Voting Rates *
  • 7 - An Appraisal of the Runoff *
  • Notes *
  • Bibliography *
  • Index *
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