Floridians have learned enough about elections supervisors to worry about anything they are celebrating. Last week, Palm Beach County Supervisor Theresa LePore and her colleagues hailed an agreement in Tallahassee to cancel runoffs for another year.
The deal means less work for Ms. LePore and the other supervisors. It also means less opportunity for voters to make their preference known. Throughout the state's history, the second primary has proved itself to be an important check against fringe candidates influencing races disproportionately. The Legislature eliminated the runoffs for the 2002 cycle, but the extra primary could have returned in next year's presidential election. It was up to state lawmakers.
Ms. LePore, president of the state elections supervisors association, said her group "worked very hard" to sell the deal that ends the runoffs. Voters would appreciate the same amount of effort on their behalf. The complaint against the runoffs is that there is not enough time to prepare for them during the four weeks between the first September primary and the November general election. Supervisors predicted chaos with the expected heavy turnout of the 2004 presidential race. Since supervisors did not predict chaos before the chaotic 2000 vote, lawmakers can take the warning at least two ways.
Taxpayers have a right to feel misled. They put up millions to buy touch-screen systems that were billed as the state-of-the art way to run elections: easy programming, quick counts, the solution for decades to come. When pitching their computer buys, supervisors said nothing about limitations that would make runoffs obsolete. Voters thought getting rid of the punch-card ballot and doing away with hanging chads would solve the problems. But no amount of technology can override a system that suffers from poor management. Ms. LePore has asked Palm Beach County commissioners to nearly double her budget and now tells voters they should celebrate having less choice to show for it.
Legislators will have to take up the fate of the runoff again, and they should add second-choice voting, in which voters make an alternate selection that would come into play when no candidate got a majority. Instant runoffs would protect voters and the electoral process without burdening the overburdened election officials. That change would deserve a celebration.