12 Runoffs in the SC Legislative Primaries Instant Runoff Voting Would Save Time and Money

June 12, 2024

Columbia, SC–Nineteen legislative races had more than two candidates in yesterday’s primaries.  Of those, 12 (63%) will require a runoff election in two weeks because no candidate received a majority of votes.

In South Carolina every legislative primary election requires a majority-vote winner.  Many local, non-partisan elections also require a majority-winner.

“These runoffs add significant and unnecessary taxpayer costs,” said Nicole Sanchez, President of Better Ballot SC.  “Instant runoff voting is a simple upgrade to our election system that determines a majority winner on primary day for legislative races and general election day for local office elections. Thus, instant runoff voting saves local and state governments money.”

In 2022, South Carolinian taxpayers spent over $1 million conducting state legislative runoff elections.

While the total cost of local election runoffs is not collected by the state, over 150 municipalities require a majority winner in their non-partisan elections. The cost of runoffs in these municipalities range from $2,700 in Pickens to $105,000 in Charleston.

Runoff elections also see a dramatic dropoff in voter participation. For instance, in the 2022 statewide primary, only 17% of all registered voters participated.  The runoffs in those statewide primaries saw even fewer voters participating, only 7%.

“Fewer citizens vote in legislative and local runoff elections,” said Frank Knapp Jr., President and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce.  “So, the taxpayers pay for two elections with very few voters participating in the second.  The result is higher costs and a winning candidate who very few people voted for.  What a crazy, wasteful, and undemocratic process.”

In South Carolina, an easy software upgrade to voting machines would be necessary for instant runoff voting in which voters rank their preference for candidates.  Computer tabulation of the votes would determine the  majority-winning candidate after the polls close. More voters would have input in determining the winner because there would be no steep drop off in voter participation.

South Carolina’s overseas military personnel already vote using instant runoff voting.

Instant runoff voting, also called ranked choice voting, is the fastest growing election reform in the United States. This voting system is used in over 50 cities, counties and states.  Since 2004, over 20 million ranked choice ballots have been cast in over 500 elections. Several states, including South Carolina, use instant runoff voting for overseas military members.

This past legislative session, a bi-partisan bill (H.4022) was  introduced in the SC House.  The bill would have amended state law to allow municipalities to use instant runoff voting for their local elections.  The bill had the support of Better Ballot SC, the SC Small Business Chamber of Commerce, the SC Municipal Association and other state organizations.

It is anticipated that this bill will be re-introduced in the next legislative session.


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