Runoff elections a relic of the Democratic South | WashingtonPost.com

4
Jun

Runoff elections a relic of the Democratic South | WashingtonPost.com

When the polls closed last night in Mississippi, the bitter primary between Sen. Thad Cochran (R) and state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R) wasn’t quite over: A third candidate, realtor Tom Carey (R), scored 1.6 percent of the vote, just barely enough to deny both Cochran and McDaniel a majority of the vote.

Mississippi is one of a handful of states, mostly in the South, that requires the top vote-getters in a primary election to reach a specific threshold in order to avoid a runoff.

Those runoffs are low-turnout affairs, costly for cash-strapped state elections boards and draining for candidates who have to spend another month or two campaigning for the votes of a narrow segment of the electorate. These days, given Republican domination of the South, they can serve to elect the most conservative  possible candidates.

But when primary and runoff elections were first created, around the beginning of the 20th Century, Republicans were an afterthought. The runoff system is a vestige of a time when white Democrats controlled Southern politics, and manipulated election rules to make sure they stayed in power.

“They trace their lineage back to an era when there was only one party in politics,” said Charles Bullock, a political scientist at the University of Georgia who wrote a definitive history of runoff elections in 1992. “Back in the day when the South was one-party Democratic, the runoff was often the determinative election. So you often had more people participating in the runoff than in the original primary.”

via Runoff elections a relic of the Democratic South.

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