The Virginia State Senate voted 22-16 yesterday to implement run-off elections for statewide offices where no candidate receives a majority of the vote.
The Washington Times article reporting on this gets the analogy wrong, however — it wouldn’t turn Virginia’s system into one like Louisiana’s since Louisiana holds a “jungle primary” on Election Day and runoffs are held about a month later. They do not have primary elections in Louisiana, which is why two Republicans split the vote for U.S. Senate there in November necessitating the December run-off. Instead, this bill would turn Virginia’s electoral system into one like that in Georgia where you first have a primary, then the general election and a runoff if there are more than two candidates on the ballot and no one gets a majority.
It makes sense for elected officials to be able to claim a majority of the vote when they seek to implement their agendas, so why not have a runoff in Virginia if no one gets 50% +1? It works in Georgia and it isn’t employed very often. It would also allow for voters to support third-party or write-in candidates, either out of conviction or protest, and in turn those third-parties could grow and flourish without serving as merely spoilers. Those same voters could then come back in the run-off and vote for their second-choice candidate or abstain from voting if they so choose.
Two years in a row Virginia has seen statewide offices won by individuals without a majority of the vote — in 2014 Mark Warner was reelected to the U.S. Senate with 49.15% and in 2013 Terry McAuliffe was elected governor with 47.75% and Mark Herring was elected Attorney General with 49.89% of the vote (the exact same percentage that his opponent Mark Obenshain had with the remaining 0.22% going to write-ins.) This would have also impacted the 2006 U.S. Senate race where Jim Webb received 49.59% and the 2005 Attorney General race won by Bob McDonnell with 49.96%. No other statewide race going back to at least 1997 would have resulted in a run-off.
By no means would a run-off election be a “gimme” for Republicans to have won all or any of those seats and the equation could just as easily tip the other way as can by seen by McDonnell’s ’05 victory. However, this is an idea whose time has come and one that should be embraced by both Republicans and Democrats. Republicans in the House of Delegates should vote to pass this measure and Gov. McAuliffe should sign it into law.