Plurality winners in Utah primary elections coming soon thanks to SB54

Plurality winners in Utah primary elections coming soon thanks to SB54

One of the major problems of SB 54 is it will make it possible for a candidate to win a primary election with just 25%, 20%, or even lower percent of the vote. That’s because the bill allows an unlimited number of candidates to make it on the primary ballot, and there is no runoff provision like many other states have to ensure the winner has to receive a majority of votes.

Senate Bill 54 (SB54), in case you haven’t heard of it, was the compromise between the Count My Vote ballot initiative and the Utah Legislature, which was passed and signed into law in 2014. The bill creates an alternative path for candidates to get on the primary election ballot. In addition to or instead of going through the caucus/convention system, candidates can collect a certain number of signatures (statewide office = 28,000 signatures; Congress = 7,000 signatures; state Senate = 2,000 signatures; state House = 1,000 signatures) to be included in the primary. It also allows for unaffiliated voters to vote in the party primary elections.

Before SB 54, the party conventions narrowed the candidates down to two candidates (unless one candidate received at least 60% of the vote, in which case that candidate would receive the party nomination) who would then advance to a primary election, the winner of which would advance to the general election as the party’s nominee. This system meant that no candidate would win the party’s nomination unless he/she receives a majority of the vote.

SB 54 changes that, and we will likely see a lot of plurality primary victories. A plurality win is one in which no candidate receives a majority of the votes so the candidate with the most votes wins. It’s not a stretch to say we could have candidates win with only 20% of the vote. SB 54 makes it easier for a fringe candidate to receive the Republican or Democratic nomination.

Don’t believe this could happen? Here are just a few examples of primary elections where no one received more than 40%. Under SB 54, these people would be the nominee and there would be no run-off.

Alabama 6th District Republican Primary (2014) – Leading vote-getter Paul DeMarco received just 32.7% of the vote. DeMatco went on to lose the run-off by a large margin.

California 31st District Blanket Primary (2014) – With just 26.6%, Republican Paul Chabot received the most votes, which was enough to advance him to the general election.

Iowa 3rd District Republican Primary (2014) – Brad Zaun was the first-place vote-getter with just 24.8%.

Other examples of 2014 primaries where leading vote-getter received less than 40% of the vote (click on the links for more information)

California 45th District (2014) – 28.1%

Georgia 22nd District (2014) – 38%

Louisiana 6th District (2014) – 30%

Montana At-Large (2014) – 33%

North Carolina 6th District (2014) – 34% (leading vote-getter went on to lose run-off big time)

Oklahoma 5th District (2014) – 26.6%

Texas 36th District (2014) – 33.4%

Washington 4 District (2014) – 30%

West Virginia’s 2 District (2014) – 36%

Wisconsin 6th District (2014) – 36%

Georgia Senate ( 2014) – 30%

New Jersey Senate GOP (2014) – 29% 

Tennessee Senate Dem (2014) – 36%

Wyoming Senate Dem (2014) – 39%

If SB54 holds up in court, this problem of plurality elections is going to have to be addressed by the Utah legislature. Will they opt for an expensive run-off election like many states do, or allow party delegates to decide the run-off winner like other states or find some other solution?

About author

Michael Jolley
Michael Jolley 29 posts

Michael has been active in Utah politics since 2009 and admits he still has a lot to learn. He lives in Provo with his wife Jessica and their two small children. Follow Michael on Twitter: @UTJolley

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