More evidence that runoffs are a joke

Moving City Council elections from May to November four years ago was a big improvement. But much of that improvement is counteracted by the fact that most elections are determined in December runoffs, when turnout is just as bad as in May.

A month after record midterm turnout, participation in last night’s runoffs was predictably awful.

District 1

General Election: 22,044

Runoff: 4,745

Percentage of GE turnout: 21.5 percent

District 3

General Election: 21,962

Runoff: 3,753

Percentage of GE turnout: 17.1 percent

District 8

General Election: 31,757

Runoff: 10,914

Percentage of GE turnout: 34.4 percent

The results in District 1 were the clearest display of the problematic nature of runoffs. Salazar held Harper-Madison to a virtual tie in the general election and then got crushed in a super low turnout runoff. The dynamic wasn’t quite as unfair as the District 10 runoff two years ago, where Sheri Gallo went from a clear victory in the general to a lopsided defeat in the runoff, but still…

While November turnout this year crushed turnout in the November 2014 midterm election, fewer people turned out to vote in the runoffs last night than did four years ago. Very weird. That is no doubt because there was also a mayoral runoff in 2014 that helped generate awareness of the runoffs.

District 1 

2014 runoff turnout: 5,710

2018 runoff turnout: 4,745

Change: -17%

District 3

2014 runoff turnout: 4,282

2018 runoff turnout: 3,753

Change: -13.5%

District 8

2014 runoff turnout: 12,412

2018 runoff turnout: 10,914

Change: -12%

Republicans generally aren’t interested in making elections more democratic, so my guess is that there is not much hope to push for eliminating runoffs, which I believe are enshrined in state law, until the Democrats take over state government. Municipalities should be allowed to put in place ranked-choice voting.

Update: For some reason when I was comparing the 2018 to the 2014 figures I forgot the super-relevant fact that there was a mayoral runoff in 2014. That helps explain the lower turnout this year. I’ve updated the article to reflect that. 

2 thoughts on “More evidence that runoffs are a joke

  1. For what it’s worth, on a microscopic level, the voting patterns look proportionally the same to the first round, although the big dip from 2014 run-offs remains puzzling. (Your lack-of-mayoral reasoning seems likely.) Thought the relatively larger turnout in D8 might have shifted the odds toward Ward, but I guess not. Remains true that for all the local posturing about participatory democracy, actual voting remains, for a lot of folks, Too Far to Walk.

    1. Haha, sadly I think people are more likely to say “not enough parking.” But I think most people are utterly oblivious to the runoff elections and don’t know or feel strongly enough about down-ballot positions to turn out.

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