Primary runoff elections produce better candidates – and PA needs that

Sens. Ryan Aument (R-36) & Frank Farry (R-6)

Do you know how many times a candidate from either party has won a statewide election in Pennsylvania for Governor or U.S. Senator without first winning the support of most of their party’s voters in the primary election?

Almost never. Since 1976, it’s only happened three times; and each time, the opponent from the other party also failed to earn at least 50% of the vote in the primary.

In other words, you are very unlikely to win an election for major statewide office in Pennsylvania unless you are able to get at least 50% of the vote from your party in the primary. This is true for both parties.

If candidates are truly interested in winning in November, then they must first win widespread support from their party – otherwise, history shows us they lose. 

We will soon introduce a bill to create a primary runoff election system in Pennsylvania. It would require candidates to win at least 50% of their party’s support in the primary election before they can be declared the winner and advance to compete in the November general election.

Here’s how it works – if no candidate can earn at least 50% of the vote in the primary election, then a second or “runoff” election would be held between the top two vote getters. The candidate with the most votes in the runoff election wins and goes on to compete in the general election.

In a time when voter satisfaction is so low due in large part to a lack of enthusiasm for candidates, shouldn’t we want to create a system where majority support is required?

Under the current system, a candidate can win with only a small fraction of the vote. For example, 69% of Republican voters chose someone other than the winner of the primary election for U.S. Senate in 2022. Yet, that candidate won that race and then went on to lose against John Fetterman in the general election. 

Under a primary runoff election system, successful candidates must earn the support of a majority of their party’s voters. To do this, they must attract support from a broader base within their party. This results in stronger general election candidates with popular support, which is better for Pennsylvania.

Additionally, runoffs empower voters by adding another opportunity to have their voices heard. Though it’s been said that this is an attack on grassroots efforts, we think it is the opposite. Primary runoff elections do not give an advantage to incumbents or those with more money. They only give an advantage to candidates who have the support of a majority of their party’s voters – as it should.

Yet, we’ve been contacted by a small handful of vocal grassroots advocates who vehemently oppose this proposal and want us to immediately retract it without debate. They want to silence any discussion of candidate quality because they believe that candidates who are rejected by most voters still deserve to win. We disagree. Just because you got the most votes doesn’t mean you got the majority of votes.

And if you can’t win at least 50% of the vote, then maybe you aren’t the best candidate to represent your party in the general election and ultimately serve the people in office.  

If you’re a prospective grassroots candidate who’s confident in your ability to represent your district well and win the support of most voters within your party, then primary runoff elections won’t negatively affect you. Good candidates will still win.

In fact, this proposal will make it easier for good candidates to win and serve – and that’s the point.

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