NewslettersSign inAPP
spainSPAINchileCHILEcolombiaCOLOMBIAusaUSAmexicoMEXICOlatin usaLATIN USAamericaAMERICA


What is a runoff election and which US states could use them?

Georgia voters return to the polls today to decide their next senator after neither candidate won a majority in the first vote.

Which states use runoff elections?

When no candidate in the initial election achieves the necessary level of success, a runoff election is held to choose a winner. Both primary and general elections have the option of having runoff elections.

In the last two nationwide elections in the United States, the Senate race in Georgia has gone to a runoff after neither candidate was able to secure a majority of the vote. Back in November neither incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock or Republican challenger Herschel Walker reached the 50%-threshold required, due to the presence of a third party candidate.

The winner will be decided in a runoff election on Tuesday, 6 December, with only the two leading candidates on the ballot. But while Georgia Senate races have become the most notable users of runoff elections, they are far from the only ones in the US that can be decided with a runoff.

Runoffs for general elections

Georgia and Louisiana need runoff elections when no candidate obtains a majority of the vote in a general election. In every other state, a candidate can take home the majority of the vote to win.

Primary election runoffs

Runoff elections are held in ten states as an element of the party nomination process. These runoff elections are held when no candidate receives the necessary votes to win. This is a majority of the vote (as opposed to a plurality) in most states. However, in North Carolina, a candidate must receive 30 percent of the vote plus one to win the primary. The ten states that have primary runoff elections are listed below.

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Georgia
  • Mississippi
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota - Only for congressional and gubernatorial elections
  • Texas
  • Vermont - Only for tie votes

Election runoff history

Runoffs in primary elections have had their roots in the South since the turn of the 20th century. Democratic candidates were once nominated at conventions before the primary and runoff system was implemented. In order to go into the general election united against the Republican Party, the Democratic Party used the new structure to bring together groups that had broken off inside the party. The Democratic Party implemented the new system in at least one state, Arkansas, to stop Klu Klux Klan members from winning party primaries with a slim majority of the vote.

Moreover, it “encourages candidates to broaden their appeal to a wider range of voters, to reduce the likelihood of electing candidates who are at the ideological extremes of a party, and to produce a nominee who may be more electable in the general election,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, thus the primary and runoff system was instituted. But, unfortunately, the same problems still exist now that the South is firmly Republican.


To be able to comment you must be registered and logged in. Forgot password?