Sens. Ryan Aument + Frank Farry: Primary runoff elections produce better candidates — and Pennsylvania needs that

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 percent 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 percent 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 elections system in Pennsylvania. It would require candidates to win at least 50 percent 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.

READ MORE — Two state senators move towards making runoff primaries a reality in Pennsylvania

Here’s how it works — if no candidate can earn at least 50 percent of the vote in the primary election, then a second or “runoff” election would be held between the top two votegetters. 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 percent 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 elections 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, runoff elections 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’s 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 they 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 percent 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.

Sen. Ryan Aument is the majority whip of the Pennsylvania Senate and represents the 36th senatorial district in Lancaster County.

Sen. Frank Farry represents the 6th senatorial district in Bucks County.

5 thoughts on “Sens. Ryan Aument + Frank Farry: Primary runoff elections produce better candidates — and Pennsylvania needs that”

  1. I would add one wrinkle to the proposal, and that is that the party or parties needing to have a runoff primary should foot the entire bill for the runoff. The taxpayers did enough in having a primary, but the parties had so little influence in vetting potential candidates that they should have to pay for any runoff election.

  2. Rather than having a runoff which would be expensive and probably not draw many voters back to the polls, how about this: in a three candidate contest let voters vote for 2; in a 4 or 5 candidate race, let them vote for 3. The candidate with the most votes wins. The winner will have received votes from more than 50% of the voters.

      1. Could be fine and could be a disaster. 10 states already do this. Would be instructive to know the pros and cons they’ve experienced. My comment was not an empty insult; when a party finds itself recently on the losing end after decades of dominance in PA and then suddenly suggests radically overhauling the rules, that’s suspect.

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