A couple of astute readers of my earlier blog post today asked me whether Georgia’s version of a runoff system would satisfy my proposed majority-winner requirement for congressional elections. The simple answer is no, for a reason that is explained in the law review article containing the text of the proposed statute, but which I should have made clearer in the blog post itself.
My proposed statute would not permit a regular runoff after Election Day in November, the way Georgia does it. Instead, it would require the majority-clearing vote to occur on Election Day itself, either in the form of a ranked-choice ballot or as the second round of a two-round system, like California’s. Although mathematically Georgia’s post-November runoff is equivalent to California’s second round in November, the posture of the parties and their nomination process changes if the government requires the majority vote in the second round of a two-round process.
Under my proposed statute, any candidate regardless of party would need to participate in the first round of a two-round system, if the state chose that approach instead of a ranked-choice ballot. Therefore, both the ultra-extreme candidate and the less extreme candidate would need to be on the first-round ballot in order to be eligible to qualify for the second round in November. If it wanted to, a party could still hold some sort of primary election or other nomination process in advance of the first round of this two-round system, and thus could nominate the ultra-extreme candidate in that preliminary process. But it wouldn’t block the less extreme candidate from being able to pick up votes across the entire electorate.
To be sure, even under this system, depending on the composition of the specific electorate, there is the possibility that the less extreme conservative will come in third, behind both the ultra-extreme candidate and the Democrat. This is true for both California’s “top two” system, and Alaska’s “top 4” with its “instant runoff” method of RCV. To avoid that problem, a state would need to adopt a “Condorcet-compliant” electoral system, which I think would be better for reasons I’ve elaborated in various pieces, including a new co-authored one. But I don’t think it would be appropriate, or politically feasible, for Congress to mandate a Condorcet-compliant electoral system. Instead, I think the most Congress could, and should, do is mandate a majority-winner system along the lines I’ve suggested and then hope that some states are willing to try a Condorcet-compliant version of RCV as a way to best comply with the congressional mandate.
To be clear, however, just because some House districts would need a Condorcet-compliant system in order to avoid the election of the most extreme candidate, not all House districts would. It depends on whether a less extreme conservative can come in second at least, leaving the Democrat in third place–as was true in Lisa Murkowski’s win under Alaska’s new system (Murkowski actually came in first, barely ahead of her Trump-endorsed opponent, with the Democrat trailing far behind).
Finally, here’s the text of the proposed statute:
Section 1: For any election to a seat in Congress, the winning candidate shall receive a majority of votes in the November election.
Section 2: To implement the requirement set forth in section 1, states may choose either (a) to use conventional single-preference ballots, on which voters mark only a choice for their most preferred candidate, and to hold the election in more than one stage, in order that the final stage is confined to two candidates from whatever larger set of candidates appeared on the ballot at any earlier stage; or (b) to hold an election, of however many stages the state chooses, using ballots that permit voters to rank their preferences among candidates, from which a final result may be calculated mathematically that yields a single winning candidate preferred by a majority of voters.