The Mississippi US Senate runoff: a poster child for Instant Runoff Voting

Even though New York does not have runoffs, it’s often been the case that a candidate has been elected with less than a majority of the vote.

LADYVOTING_000As you may know, there was a Republican primary for the US Senate seat between longtime incumbent Thad Cochran and Tea Party darling Chris McDaniel on June 3.

Chris McDaniel 155,040 49.5 %
Thad Cochran 153,654 49.0 INCUMBENT
Thomas Carey 4,789 1.5

The Democrats also had their primary for the seat. You probably didn’t know that because a Democrat is highly unlikely to win in the general election in November:
Travis Childers 62,545 74.2%
Bill Marcy 10,134 12.0
William Compton 8,261 9.8
Jonathan Rawl 3,399 4.0

Mississippi election law requires a candidate to win a majority of the vote to be nominated, and McDaniel barely missed the threshold. This meant a runoff election for June 24.

Runoff elections are particularly expensive because 37 of the 40 Senate run-off elections since 1980 have seen decreases in turnout from the initial primary, “reflecting the difficulty in getting voters to care about a primary election two times in a row.”

This, however, was a different beast. The race had “become a proving ground for some Tea Party groups… On top of that, add the deliberate effort by Cochran’s camp to turn out more black voters, mixing up the expected voter pool. That makes predicting turnout tough.” As it turns out, there was a much HIGHER turnout for the runoff.

Cochran * 191,508 50.9%
McDaniel 184,815 49.1

From the Ballotopedia: “Mississippi is one of 21 states with a mixed primary system. Voters do not have to register with a party, but they must intend to support the party nominations if they vote in the primary election.” One aspect is that voters in the Democratic primary on June 3 ought not to have been able to also vote in the Republican runoff on June 24. McDaniel supporters have suggested that’s exactly what happened.

All of this could have been avoided if Mississippi had instituted Instant Runoff Voting:

Instant runoff voting allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference (i.e. first, second, third, fourth and so on). Voters have the option to rank as many or as few candidates as they wish, but can vote without fear that ranking less favored candidates will harm the chances of their most preferred candidates. First choices are then tabulated. If more than two candidates receive votes, a series of runoffs are simulated, using voters’ preferences as indicated on their ballot.
The candidate who receives the fewest first choice rankings is eliminated. All ballots are then retabulated, with each ballot counting as one vote for each voter’s highest ranked candidate who has not been eliminated.

In the Mississippi GOP scenario, after the June 3 primary, Thomas Carey’s votes would have been distributed to Cochran and McDaniel, based on who was Carey voters’ second choice. The majority would have been reached. There would have been no need for the June 24 runoff, and no chance for the Democratic party supporters to vote in the Republican primary without foregoing their opportunity to vote in their OWN primary.

IRV is being used in a number of US jurisdictions, sometimes only for overseas ballots, but sometimes more extensively. Several locales internationally use it as well.

I’d love to see IRV implemented in New York State. Even though New York does not have runoffs, it’s often been the case that a candidate has been elected with less than a majority of the vote. The governor’s race this fall would be a real reflection of the Green Party support since people would not feel that their vote was being “thrown away” on a candidate who could not win. Of course, it can’t happen that soon, but it’s still worth considering.
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Mark Mayfield, a leading tea party activist in Mississippi who was indicted in an alleged plot to break into a nursing home to film Sen. Thad Cochran’s ailing wife, has died. “Ridgeland, Miss. police say they are investigating the case as a suicide after Mayfield was found dead of a gunshot wound in his home.”

The chili incident

It would have been easy to put in some cheese, then some chili, a little more cheese, then top it off with plenty of chili, rendering all signs of the dairy product invisible.

This happened last month, and someone who knows that I blog said, “That’ll show up in your blog.” It had not occurred to me, frankly. But since I do the Ask Roger Anything feature, I’ll give it a go.

There’s a cafeteria in the building where I work in Corporate (frickin’) Woods. The staff is generally friendly, and the food is at least adequate, most of the time. I was not interested in the featured meal, or a sandwich. But I opted for the chili, which they don’t always have, and which I’ve enjoyed in the past. There was some shredded cheese in a bowl next to the vat of chili, and I added a soupcon of it on top.

What I couldn’t find, though, was a lid to put on the container, lest it spill. The friendly woman at the register, seeing my puzzled look, yelled across the room that the lids were by the register, several yards away. Huh?

I purchased my lunch, which seemed higher than I had mentally calculated, then went to the dining room to start eating. Then the woman who thought I ought to blog this, came to me and said: “You know why the tops were by the register? Because the cashier was directed by management to charge extra for the cheese.” This rather cheesed me off, pardon the pun. It seemed petty; if I had gotten an extra ounce of chili, that would have cost more than the ounce of cheese I used? There was no signage that I saw to indicate this, either.

What had occurred to me is what would I do the NEXT time I got chili there. It would have been easy to put in some cheese, then some chili, a little more cheese, then top it off with plenty of chili, rendering all signs of the dairy product invisible. What would YOU do?

As it turned out, the management has been replaced, so the chili lids are by the chili, and so the question is moot. Except that it still serves as an example of bad customer service.