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.”

Should be Primary Election Day

All these elections are expensive, and it’d be nice if there was some way to consolidate at least the June and September ballots.

I understand it, I really do. Still, I wish the primary election were being held today, rather than Thursday.

In New York State, the primary is the second Tuesday in September for non-federal elections. September 11, 2001, was a Tuesday, and the voting, of course, was suspended for a week. In fact, it had not even started in upstate New York, where polling begins at noon on primary days.

The rationale for moving the voting to Thursday this year is so that folks can participate in 9/11 memorials. For me, though, nothing would be more symbolic than to be able to cast a ballot on the anniversary of that day.

Thursday, BTW, will be the fourth of five voting opportunities in the state. On April 24, there was the Presidential primary, moved up from June so that it would matter to the final outcome; it still didn’t, as all of Mitt Romney’s opponents had dropped out by then. On May 15, there was the school budget vote, held statewide for most districts. In June, there were the primaries for the federal, non-Presidential primary; that would be for the House of Representatives and the US Senate, per some federal voting law which requires a certain number of days to allow for military absentee ballots. Then September 13, and, of course, November 6.

When I was growing up, even in Presidential years, there were only two voting opportunities, in June and November. All these elections are expensive, and it’d be nice if there was some way to consolidate at least the June and September ballots.

As a secondary consideration, I hate voting on Thursdays – and I really DO need to vote, since there are competitive races – since it means I can’t vote before I go to work (the polls aren’t open yet), so I must vote when I get home, when everyone else is at the polls, then eat, take out the trash, and go back out to choir rehearsal. There is some provision in my work regulations that say that I can get up to a couple of hours off from work to vote. I’ve never actually used that in 20 years, but I’d be seriously tempted on Thursday.