Plurality Wins Avoided by Runoffs in Primary or General Gubernatorial Elections, 1990-2002

In recent years, several gubernatorial candidates have avoided plurality wins through runoff elections, in which the top two contenders run against each other in a second round in order to determine the majority winner.  For example, former governors in Georgia and South Carolina avoided plurality wins in the 1990s because of laws requiring runoffs in primary elections in their states. This was also the case in Arizona in the 1990-91 general election that Fife Symington won.  Following Evan Mecham's win in 1986 with just 40% of the vote, people in Arizona voted to adopt runoff elections to ensure that elections were won by a majority.  However, the 1991 second round was delayed because the state was not prepared to conduct a runoff, and less people ended up voting.  The next year, runoffs were voted out to avoid wasted time and confusion.

The table below summarizes runoffs occurring in either primary or general elections of gubernatorial races, from 1990 to 2002.

StateYearTypeCandidate1st RoundRunoff
Alabama1994PrimaryFob James (R)40%62%
Arizona1991General Fife Symington (R)                           50%52%
Georgia1998PrimaryRoy Barnes (D)49%83%
Georgia1990PrimaryZell Bryan Miller (D)41%62%
Mississippi1991PrimaryKirk Fordice (R)45%61%
Oklahoma1990PrimaryDavid Walters (D)32%51%
South Carolina2002PrimaryMark Sanford (R)39%53%
South Carolina1994PrimaryDavid M. Beasley (R)47%58%
Texas1990PrimaryAnn W. Richards (D)39%57%

Although only one of these runoffs occurred in the general election, all the candidates listed above became governor by winning at least 50% of the votes in their respective general elections.  Some states require runoffs to avoid plurality wins, while others, such as Arizona, have gotten rid of runoffs because they can end up being time-consuming and confusing for voters.  Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) is an alternative system that requires a candidate to win by a majority vote while avoiding additional elections, which may be perceived as wasteful by voters.