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Texas is only 1 of 10 states that use primary runoff system -- here’s what that means

‘Traditionally, for runoff primaries, the turnout is awful,’ UTSA political science professor says

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When it comes to politics, elections and voting, there can be a lot of information to process.

It’s always good to be informed, especially during voting season, so we thought we’d fill you in on exactly how a primary runoff works.

For starters, did you know that Texas is one of only 10 states that still use a primary runoff system?

We’ve been using it for more than a century as a way to give strength to the candidates, said Dr. Jon R. Taylor, professor and chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

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During a primary election, if there are more than two people in the race, a candidate must receive 50%, plus one, of the vote. If that doesn’t happen, then the top two vote-getting candidates head into a runoff election on May 26.

However, “there are not a lot of offices that end up being pushed into a runoff,” Taylor said.

When a primary election ends up in a runoff, the way the voting works might seem a bit peculiar to some.

Because Texas is an open primary state, you don’t have to specifically register with a particular party.

However, Taylor said, you declare a party when you vote in the primary, and you must vote with the same party’s ballot in the runoff election.

Those who don’t vote at all in the primary, may vote in either party’s runoff election.

The Green and Libertarian parties nominate candidates by convention -- and their candidates will not appear on primary election or runoff ballots. They nominate their candidates by convention.

“Traditionally, for runoff primaries, the turnout is awful,” Taylor said. “This is why (many) states abandon runoffs.”

It’s worth noting that runoffs can happen during the primary election in Texas, not the general election.

During years in which there is a presidential election, Taylor said there is typically a much greater voter turnout for primary elections. In other years, he said, there is often as low as a 15% to 20% turnout.

What could help? Online registration, perhaps. Half of the nation, including each state surrounding Texas, participates in online registration. Texas has yet to join because of a fear of voter fraud, Taylor said.

Regardless, despite which party you prefer on the ballot -- and even if you don’t vote in the primary -- you can vote for a candidate from any party when the general election comes around.


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