Because America is a country of united, but separate states, laws differ depending on where you are.

In some states, marijuana is completely legal and in others, you can go to jail if you’re caught with it. The amount of taxes an individual is required to pay is all over the place.

This same diversity of law is true for elections, as well. In fact, some states employ such a thing as a runoff election.

But what is a runoff election?

We’re glad you asked. Here’s everything you need to know about the runoff election and how it’s won.

What Is A Runoff Election And How Do You Win One?

In some races in some states, something called a two-round system is employed.

In a two-round system, candidates are required to pass through two different elections. In the first elections, all candidates participate. If no candidate gets at least 50% of the vote, then another election takes place with only the two highest performing candidates from the first election. 

This second election is called a runoff election. It only occurs in states that require a majority of the vote to win,instead of a plurality. Most people are familiar with a plurality, as that means a winner is decided by whoever has the most votes. Winning a majority refers to winning at least half the votes.

Only Louisiana and Georgia use this system for their state and federal representatives.

In some states, this system is even applied to the primaries, where the same rules apply. In other states, a runoff election only occurs when there is a tie between two candidates, but this is extremely rare.

In addition to being used in America, the two-round system is also quite popular in many other democratic or democratic-light systems. These include Afghanistan, Ecuador, and Finland, as well as many others.

Is There An Example Of How A Runoff Election Works?

two hands holding paper

Image by Orna Wachman from Pixabay

In case explaining a runoff election isn’t doing the trick, here’s a helpful example of a theoretical scenario in a two-round system.

Imagine that Red, Blue, Green, and Purple are running for office.

In the first election, Red gets 10% of the vote, Blue gets 40% of the vote, Green gets 20% of the vote and Purple gets 30%of the vote.

Because no candidate got at least 50% of the votes, a runoff election must be had. The bottom two performers, Red and Green are eliminated from the election.

In the runoff election, there are only two candidates, Blue and Purple. With two candidates, one of them has to get atleast 50% of the votes, thereby achieving the requirements.

The chance of the two candidates getting exactly half the votes each is astronomical.

What Are The Downsides Of Having A Runoff Election?

A runoff election may sound like a good idea on the surface, but as with anything, the closer you get to it, the more the cracks show.

By its very nature, having a two-round system puts a lot of strain on the back of the campaigns. Running a campaign is a brutal and expensive process by itself, but when you multiply it by two, it can become too much.

This is a major problem, as running for office should be something everyone can do, not just those who have the money.

It also drags out the election process, which brings with it a whole set of issues. In the time elapsing from the vote to the final results, any number of things could occur that might change the perception of the candidates. Elections should be as quick and precise as possible.

Having two separate elections can also wreak havoc on stability. If an incumbent knows by the results of the first election that he or she will lose the runoff, the candidate may begin changing his or her approach to governing, attempting to make last-minute changes.

In America, we don’t have to worry about this much, but in other countries where the government is more consolidated, civil wars have broken out by presidents who know they were going to lose and had no reason to play by the rules anymore.

What Is Ranked-Choice Voting And How Does It Relate To Runoff Elections?

One of the newer types of voting is ranked-choice voting, also known as instant runoff voting.

It’s called instant runoff voting because you’re getting the results of a second, runoff election on the first try.

This is how it works. Instead of voting for only one candidate, you can vote for every candidate, only you rank them from your top pick to bottom pick. By doing this, you negate the need for a second election, because the candidates’ rankings are averaged out to find a winner.

For instance, if no candidate receives 50%of first-choice picks, candidates begin getting eliminated, based on their rankings. So, a candidate who received every second-choice vote could theoretically beat someone who received a mixture of first-choice and last-choice votes.

The purpose of this system is to give the voter more choices. Many voters complain about having to choose the lesser of two evils or being afraid to “waste” their vote with a third party. With ranked-choice voting, no vote is “wasted.”

This is important, as the third parties have a hard time breaking the current duopoly of American politics. By becoming enough people second-choice picks, the third parties could begin to carve out a place for themselves in the public consciousness.

Ranked-choice voting also removes the major problems of runoff voting, in that it doesn’t require a second election, thereby takes the pressure off of the campaigns. It also fills up the power gap that may occur during the runoff election.

What Is A Proportional Representation Voting System?

voting day sticker

Photo by Element5 Digital from Pexels

In certain parts of Western Europe, there is something called a Proportional Representation voting system.

As with runoff elections and ranked-choice voting, this system unique and quite interesting.

It’s interesting for one big reason. As its name suggests, the system ensures that each party representation proportion alto the number of votes it got. This means that if a Republican won 40% of the vote in a district that had ten available seats, the Republicans would get four seats.

This is possible because their districts have more than one representative. 

Like ranked-choice voting, this system is designed to make sure that no votes go “wasted” or, at least, that the perception of wasting a vote goes away. It also ensures that even third parties get to have a voice in the government.

As for some of the downside with this system, it could create a scenario where absolutely nothing gets done, due to the overwhelming amount of dissenting opinions. With so many parties involved,including third, fourth and, possibly, even fifth parties, gridlock could become the norm.

Runoff Elections Aren’t That Complicated

In certain parts of Western Europe, there is something called a Proportional Representation voting system.

As with runoff elections and ranked-choice voting, this system unique and quite interesting.

It’s interesting for one big reason. As its name suggests, the system ensures that each party representation proportion alto the number of votes it got. This means that if a Republican won 40% of the vote in a district that had ten available seats, the Republicans would get four seats.

This is possible because their districts have more than one representative. 

Like ranked-choice voting, this system is designed to make sure that no votes go “wasted” or, at least, that the perception of wasting a vote goes away. It also ensures that even third parties get to have a voice in the government.

As for some of the downside with this system, it could create a scenario where absolutely nothing gets done, due to the overwhelming amount of dissenting opinions. With so many parties involved,including third, fourth and, possibly, even fifth parties, gridlock could become the norm.

Other Versions Of Runoff Elections

people counting votes

Photo by Wikimedia Commons

In recent years, something of a companion piece to runoff elections has arisen in the form of ranked-choice voting. Also known as instant runoff voting, it removes many of the cons of runoff voting,by speeding things up and filling the gaps of time.

Another voting system, similar to instant runoff voting, is present in some parts of Western Europe. Proportional Representation voting system means that every party gets representation based on their number of votes. While this sounds fair, there are a number of holes in the idea.

Runoff elections may not be perfect, but neither is anything else.

If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.

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