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A runoff election is a second election held to determine a winner when no candidate in the first election met the required threshold for victory. Runoff elections can be held for both primary elections and general elections.
General election runoffs
Two states—Georgia and Louisiana—require runoff elections in a general election when no candidate receives a majority of the vote. In every other state, a candidate can win a general election with a plurality of the vote.
See more: us election runoff
See also: Electoral systems in Georgia
In Georgia, runoff elections are required for all congressional, state executive, and state legislative elections in which a candidate does not receive a majority in the general election. The top two finishers in the general election advance to the runoff. Georgia’s legislature passed a law implementing this system in the 1960s.
See also: Electoral systems in Louisiana See also: Louisiana majority-vote system
In Louisiana, all candidates running for a local, state, or federal office appear on the same ballot in either October (in odd-numbered years) or November (in even-numbered years), regardless of their partisan affiliations. If a candidate wins a simple majority of all votes cast for the office, he or she wins the election outright. If no candidate meets that threshold, the top two finishers, regardless of their partisan affiliations, advance to a second election in December. In that election, the candidate who receives the greatest number of votes wins. The state implemented the system in 1975.
Primary election runoffs
View more: us election if only certain groups voted
Ten states conduct runoff elections as part of their party nomination process. These runoffs occur when no candidate reaches the required threshold for victory. In most states, this is a majority (as opposed to a plurality) of the vote. In North Carolina, however, the threshold for victory in the primary election is 30 percent of the vote plus one. The following are the ten states that use primary runoff elections:
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- South Dakota – Only for congressional and gubernatorial elections
- Vermont – Only for tie votes
Primary election runoffs trace their roots to the turn of the 20th century in the South. Prior to enacting the primary and runoff system, Democrats nominated candidates through conventions. The Democratic Party used the new system to unite factions that had split within the party in order to head into the general election united against the Republican Party. In at least one state, Arkansas, the Democratic Party enacted the new system to prevent members of the Klu Klux Klan from winning party primaries with a small plurality of the vote.
The National Conference of State Legislatures said that the primary and runoff system was intended “to encourage candidates to broaden their appeal to a wider range of voters, to reduce the likelihood of electing candidates who are at the ideological extremes of a party, and to produce a nominee who may be more electable in the general election. Now that the South is solidly Republican, the same issues still hold true.”
- Primary election
- Electoral system
- Majority voting system
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