Race and the Runoff
During his bid for the presidency in 1984, Jesse Jackson sought to make the majority-vote requirement the rallying point for a new effort to expand minority voting rights. Some rhetoricians placed the majority-vote requirement on a par with discriminatory techniques, now vanquished, such as the white primary and the poll tax. Probably the most extreme statement made on the topic came from a sociologist who testified as to the discriminatory consequences of runoffs in Butts v. City of New York. This expert for the plaintiffs asserted that runoffs were America's apartheid. 1
Yet, in contrast, one can readily find anecdotal evidence that black candidates have fared well under the runoff rule. In North Carolina in 1990, Harvey Gantt, the former black mayor of Charlotte, bested his white opponent 57 to 43 percent in a Democratic runoff for the U. S. Senate nomination. In Arkansas during the same year, Kenneth ("Muskie") Harris, a black, clobbered a Ku Klux Klan supporter and former member of the American Nazi party in a GOP runoff for the lieutenant gubernatorial nomination. Earlier, in 1983, former U. N. ambassador and congressman Andrew Young placed second in the initial primary for the mayorship of Atlanta but beat a liberal, white state legislator in the runoff.
So who is correct? This chapter brings empirical findings to bear on this debate.
The most frequently cited evidence for the alleged discriminatory impact of runoffs comes from a 1982 Democratic congressional primary in North Carolina.