The Open Primaries Initiative uses the term “Instant runoff” to describe the process of counting general election votes. In every election, a candidate with the majority’s support is desirable. Instant runoffs are the better, faster and more affordable way to run an election when you have four candidates competing and want one winner with majority support.
Runoff elections set a higher standard because they demand the winning politician earn more than 50% of the votes. Many Idahoans are surprised to know that runoff elections have been part of how we elect city officials since 1984. According to the Secretary of State’s office, nine Idaho cities – American Falls, Blackfoot, Boise, Caldwell, Eagle, Idaho Falls, Mountain Home, Pocatello and Spirit Lake – require runoff elections if no mayoral candidate receives more than 50% of the vote. Idaho Falls has a runoff requirement for city council, too. Combined, one-quarter of Idaho voters live in runoff communities.
Runoff elections are only required when no candidate earns a majority. In November, the winning mayors of Boise and Spirit Lake, both cleared this threshold and no runoff was needed. On the other hand, the cities of Mountain Home and Eagle held runoffs.
In the most recent November 7th general election, four nonpartisan candidates for Eagle mayor were on the ballot. Marc Degl’Innocenti and Stan Ridgeway were the bottom two candidates, receiving 7% and 27% of votes cast, respectively. Jason Pierce and Brad Pike were the top two with 36% and 31%, respectively. Because no candidate earned more than 50% of votes cast, a runoff was required. As a result, Marc and Stan were eliminated and the top two – Jason and Brad – opposed each other on December 5th. Unofficial results show that Brad won with 55% of the vote despite finishing second in November. About 70% of Marc’s and Stan’s voters preferred Brad in the second round.
The Mountain Home mayoral race was similar: four, nonpartisan candidates on the November ballot, but none earned the majority’s support. Thus, the top two, Rich Sykes and Misty Pierce, competed again in a runoff on December 5th. Preliminary results show that Rich won with 58% and earned about two-thirds of votes from the eliminated candidates.
The Open Primaries Initiative is similar to a city runoff: four candidates on the general election ballot with the requirement that the winner have majority support. The Initiative applies to federal, state, and county races, leaving the current system unchanged for city elections.
With a city runoff, however, there is four weeks of delay, more election spending, more campaign materials stuffed into mailboxes, and yard signs everywhere. City runoff elections cost taxpayers, too. Ada and Elmore counties incurred incremental expenses to administer these races.
What if Eagle held an instant runoff? First, voters would have the option to mark down their choices, most preferred in first place, next best in second, and so on. The candidate with the fewest votes, Marc, would be eliminated just like a city runoff. The folks who selected Marc first, would have their votes reassigned to their second choice, as if it were a city runoff. The process repeats until there are two candidates and the one with the majority wins. (Go to our website, www.v4iv.org to try a sample instant runoff ballot).
“Runoff elections ensure we elect someone with the broadest community support,” says former state senator, Eagle resident and Veterans for Idaho Voters member, Marv Hagedorn. “Instant runoffs achieve the same but without the delay.”
The small group of Open Primaries Initiative opponents make irrational claims that the instant runoff system results in ballots being thrown away and violates “one person, one vote.” 3,312 Eagle voters and 534 Mountain Home voters had their first choice candidate eliminated, but still had a chance to express their second choice in the runoff election. Were their ballots “thrown away” or did this runoff violate our Constitution’s sacred “one person, one vote” principle? Of course not. What it does is give voters more say in who they want to represent them.
Both Eagle and Mountain Home mayoral races give us a glimpse into Idaho elections under the Open Primaries Initiative: more candidate competition and candidates working harder to earn the majority’s trust. Unlike city runoff elections, however, the Open Primaries Initiative will ensure we receive the results without delay, give candidates a fair shot, and save taxpayers money.
Written by: Todd Achilles (Boise) Army veteran, Thom Bruce (Boise) Marine Corps veteran, John French (Ketchum) Marine Corps veteran, Barry Johnson (Moscow) Army veteran, Dave Looney (McCall) Air Force veteran, James Ruchti (Pocatello) Army veteran, Kevin Trainor (Twin Falls) Marine Corps veteran, Christie Wood (Coeur d’Alene) Air Force veteran, Randy Worrall (Ashton) Air Force veteran.