The Amarillo Pioneer

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Editorial: 'Vote Splitting' and Runoffs

I have heard a number of comments recently from voters concerned about the large field of candidates running for a number of offices this year. A common theme that always seems to come up is a claim that a vote for one candidate will actually be a vote for a less desirable candidate because “Candidate C” can’t win, so you have to vote for “Candidate B” to beat “Candidate A.” Unfortunately, this narrative seems to be very present in our conversations about civics, even though the reasoning is inherently flawed. Let’s take a closer look.

In most states, there is some truth to this A,B,C example above. However, this is not the case in Texas where we have runoff elections for local elections and primary elections. For example, if three candidates are running for governor and “Candidate A” receives 45 votes, “Candidate B” receives 40 votes, and “Candidate C” receives 15 votes, then none of the candidates received the magic number of 50 percent plus one vote. Therefore, “Candidate A,” while still getting the most votes on election day, does not have enough to win outright, so they will face “Candidate B” in a runoff election.

In that scenario, let’s assume that all of the voters who voted for “Candidate C” the first time around show up to vote again, and they completely prefer “Candidate B” to “Candidate A.” In that case, “A” would stay at 45 votes and “B” would move to 55 votes, giving “B” the clear majority. This is how a runoff election would work.

There is also a runoff precedent in Amarillo’s elections. In 2015, five candidates ran for the Place 4 seat on the Amarillo City Council. Steve Rogers and Mark Nair got the most votes on election day, sending them to a runoff, while Dale Potter, Frank White, and Walter Wolfram failed to meet that threshold. On runoff election day, Nair trounced Rogers at the polls. In this case, the numbers appeared to show Nair actually benefited from the runoff, winning most of the other candidates’ support. This may be due to the fact that several of Nair’s former opponents, like Frank White and Dale Potter, endorsed Nair following the first round of voting.

Included in this article is a video from PBS’ “Crash Course” series, which covers many election basics. One of the things covered in this video is the plurality rule versus the majority rule, which may give a better explanation.

There have also been some comments made that runoff elections favor incumbents over challengers. This is completely false. Numbers from the Texas Secretary of State show that since 2010, runoffs featuring an incumbent and a challenger for legislative or judicial seats are won by challengers around 60 percent of the time. This is also not counting situations like the District 46 Democratic primary last year, in which incumbent Dawnna Dukes did not even make a runoff.

Now, there are some exceptions to this rule. In regular November races, it is possible for candidates to win with less than 50 percent of the vote in Texas. In races that feature cumulative voting, it is also possible for candidates to win without a clear majority, which happened two years ago. However, these types of races will not affect races like primary contests and municipal elections where a number of candidates are running.

So, when you go vote this May, you will see at least three races featuring multiple candidates. Feel free to pick your favorite candidate and choose who you feel will represent you best, not who you are being told to support. Just as the saying goes, “A wasted vote is voting for somebody that you don't believe in.”

Don’t be afraid to make a bold pick this May. Whoever you decide to support, just make sure you go vote. There is a benefit to the runoff rule, allowing voters two chances to find the right candidate in some cases. Don’t worry about “wasting” or “splitting” your vote. Pick the candidate YOU support and go vote.

Amarillo is counting on you.

-Thomas Warren III, Editor-in-Chief

Photo by MarketWatch

Photo by MarketWatch

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