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Free Citizen

This writer espouses individual liberty, free markets, and limited government.

Location: Jackson, Mississippi, United States

Friday, May 22, 2009

Should We Abolish Second Primaries?

The more I consider instant runoff voting (IRV), the more I like it. Simply put, it's a way to guarantee that a candidate gets 50-plus percent in a party primary without requiring the voters to make a second trip to the polls. IRV can also be used in general elections. Moreover, it saves the taxpayers thousands of dollars per election cycle as well as reducing the costs of campaigns.

Mississippi is one of only 10 states that has party runoff (or second) primaries; all except Kentucky and Oklahoma are in the South.[1] In the early 1900s, when states began mandating that parties hold primaries, most elections in the South were decided in the Democratic primary. Hence second primaries were necessary to ensure that no one was elected with a small plurality of the vote.

An op-ed in The State newspaper advocates replacing South Carolina's second primaries with IRV. Its authors are state Rep. Bill Herbkersman and Rob Richie, executive director of FairVote.

"... tested out with good results in North Carolina, instant runoff voting determines a majority winner in one efficient election."

As I recall, North Carolina has been experimenting with IRV in 10 counties, which strikes me as a good approach.

"Voters gain the option to rank candidates in order of preference rather than select only one choice. If no candidate wins with a first-choice [50-plus percent], the two candidates with the most votes advance to the instant runoff. Ballots that were cast for eliminated candidates are added to the totals of the runoff candidates according to which runoff candidate is ranked next on the ballot."

From what I've read of the working of IRV in various places, the candidates are generally more respectful of each other in the campaign, since each hopes to be the second choice of the other candidates' supporters.

"Instant runoff voting is used in countless private organizations because it is recommended in Robert’s Rules of Order. It has been adopted to replace two rounds of voting in jurisdictions in California, Florida, Minnesota, North Carolina and Tennessee."

Some 70 percent of Memphis's voters recently approved IRV for that city. Memphis already had nonpartisan municipal elections, in which all candidates run in the same election. So IRV will reduce the total number of voting rounds from two to one.

As the article details, there is almost always a big drop-off in the turnout for the second party primary.[2]

It's also worth noting that Mississippi Republicans have only had one second primary for governor-- the 1991 runoff between Kirk Fordice and state auditor Pete Johnson. Of course, for an office other than president, the Republicans' very first contested primary was the 1972 U. S. Senate race, in which Gil Carmichael defeated James Meredith.

Thanks to Rick Hasen for the link to the op-ed.


[1] Kentucky's party runoff provision is for the office of governor only. It took effect in 1995 and has never been used; it's likely to be eliminated before the 2011 state elections. Louisiana only has party runoffs for the U. S. Congress, since that state does not have party primaries for local or state offices.

[2] Georgia is the only state that has party primaries AND runoff general elections. In the hotly-contested December 2, 2008 runoff general election for U. S. senator, the turnout was 54 percent of the turnout for the November 4 general election.


Anonymous JB said...

Nicely argued.

There's also a current effort in Los Angeles moving forward that shows the kind of broad support instant runoff voting can earn - Chamber of Commerce, unions, civic groups, civil rights groups and so on. There's a website here:

Sat May 23, 06:14:00 AM CDT  
Blogger Steve Rankin said...

Thanks for the comment. Here's the hyperlink to that website.

For nearly 100 years, California has chosen all of its municipal and county officials in nonpartisan elections: there are no party primaries, and all candidates run in the same election. Hence instant runoff voting would cut the number of voting rounds from two to one.

Sat May 23, 10:38:00 PM CDT  
Blogger info said...

Steve, r/e North Carolina. There was an IRV pilot in 2007.. The method of IRV is called "top two batch elimination" like Sri Lanken Contingency voting. Only two towns participated - Hendersonville (a touchscreen jurisdiction) and Cary (an optical scan town). Hendersonville used IRV for a multi seat contest where voters were to vote for two candidates, and then theoretically rank 3 more. The threshold to win was only 25%, and the IRV votes were NEVER counted, nor reported to the public. So, Hendersonville never had to count the IRV votes, and some voters admitted they didn't even know they were voting in an IRV election - with touchscreens, they saw the contest and candidates, voted, and then on the next screen saw a repeat of the first screen. So some voters thought the machines had a glitch or they just forgot to vote.

In Cary, in 2007 IRV was used to determine the winner of the District B contest. Don Frantz ended up winning. Only votes for top two candidates were counted and reported.
Having tried plurality, traditional elections with runoffs, and then IRV, Cary voted in April 2009 NOT to use traditional elections and runoff. This motion to use the traditional election method was led by Don Frantz, the winner in the 2007 IRV election.

Hendersonville has volunteered to participate again this year, and will be the only town in North Carolina to do so. They are using a single seat election method for a multi seat contest, and many voters won't even realize what is going on. The IRV votes will not be counted or reported, as they were not in 2007.

If IRV is to be done, jurisdictions should count ALL of the votes, and count them at the precincts, Australian style, to prevent fraud. All votes should be reported, even the votes for the losing candidates. I think San Francisco does do this, but North Carolina doesnt. Our state was sold IRV as a way to cut corners and costs, not improve the process.

Sun May 24, 05:51:00 PM CDT  
Anonymous Accurate info said...

The person writing about NC has some errors. As examples:

1) In Hendersonville, everyone has two votes for two seats. If everyone casts two votes, the highest percentage of all votes that can be won is 50% (which would mean a vote from 100% of voters). So winning more than 25% of all votes amounts to a majority of votes. That's the same threshold as used in the city's previous two-round runoff system.

2) All votes and all rankings would be totaled at the precinct in NC. If necessary, the IRV could would be done centrally, but the ballot totals for each ranking then compared to the rankings at at the precinct.

3) Australia does final central counts as well after initial tallies at the precinct. See:

4. Cary hasn't written IRV off forever after the hand-count procedure used in 2007 - one that wouldn't have been done in 2009. There was a lot of support on council. Change takes time. Readers can judge for themselves how IRV is being presented in NC at NCvotes123.com

Wed Jun 03, 11:32:00 AM CDT  

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