Our View: Primary runoff system needed
Sunday, August 15, 2004
There are still provisional ballots to sort out, but
it appears that Greg Walcher, Colorado's former natural resources
chief, will be the Republican nominee for the 3rd Congressional
District. On Tuesday night, Walcher emerged from a five-way race
with 32 percent of the vote, 285 votes ahead of state Rep. Matt
Smith, who netted 31 percent. Smith has not conceded, noting there
are hundreds of provisional ballots throughout the 29-county
district still to be reviewed and counted.
Provisional ballots are those submitted by voters who did not have
identification, whose voter registration could not be verified or
who encountered some other problem at the polls. For two weeks after
the election, election officials review such ballots and count those
that prove to be valid.
Theoretically, that process could push Smith into the lead or, more
likely, trigger a recount. But historically, the person who netted
the most votes on election night retains the lead even after such
recounts. And preliminary indications show the counting of
provisional ballots has widened Walcher's lead.
Chances are Walcher will remain the Republican nominee.
But is Walcher really the people's choice? A plurality of the voters
in the Republican primary chose him, but a majority chose Smith or
one of the other three candidates.
Walcher got 15,381 votes and Smith received 15,106. The other three
candidates -- Gregg Rippy, Dan Corsentino and Matt Aljanich --
received 17,834 votes combined. The unknown, of course, is how those
nearly 18,000 votes would be disbursed if a runoff between Walcher
and Smith were held at the end of the month. Twelve states require
such runoffs to ensure candidates win a minimum percentage of the
total vote in a primary before being elected to represent the party
in the general election.
But most states, including Colorado, do not have a runoff system. As
a result, electing party nominees who receive only a plurality of
the vote is not uncommon. According to an analysis of congressional
elections by The Center for Voting and Democracy, a Maryland-based
non-profit that advocates for fair elections, 214 U.S. House
primaries and 29 U.S. Senate primaries in the election years from
1994 to 2002 were decided by plurality and not a majority of voters.
The Center for Voting and Democracy advocates an "instant
runoff" system where voters select a first and second choice at
the ballot. Under the system, if no candidate receives 50 percent of
the first-place votes, the second-place votes of the candidate who
finished last are distributed until someone reaches 50 percent.
Utah's Republican party used the system for its primaries earlier
this year, and the city of San Francisco plans to use the system for
its mayoral and City Council election in November.
We're not suggesting that Greg Walcher should not be the Republican
nominee for the 3rd Congressional District. By all accounts, he is a
strong candidate whom many picked to win the primary. But wouldn't
the Republican Party and the district's voters be better served if
Colorado had a runoff system in place, whether that's an instant
system or a second election between the top two finishers? Wouldn't
the Republican Party want to be sure Walcher is its man?
The upcoming congressional election is critical. For the first time
in more than a decade, Western Colorado will elect a new
representative to Congress and the Democratic Party is solidified
behind a formidable candidate in state Rep. John Salazar. With the
stakes this high, it's a shame that the Republican Party could enter
the election with a candidate who may not be the party's first