A runoff election, typically following a party’s primary election, is between the two candidates who received the most votes but fell short of attaining a specified percentage of votes. Runoffs are intended to produce general election candidates who have demonstrated that they have significant voter support.

When Runoffs Occur

States that hold runoffs decide what vote percentage--typically 40 or 50 percent--constitutes a victory. If no primary candidate meets the percentage threshold, a runoff will be held. Runoffs are rare in general elections, as only two viable contenders are usually on the ballot.


Only eight states hold runoff elections. Most states do not hold runoffs, due to the expense of organizing a second election and the traditionally low voter turnout.

Instant Runoff Voting

Instant runoff voting is a proposed runoff alternative, in which voters would rank candidates in order of preference rather than voting for a single candidate. Each vote for an eliminated candidate would be added to the voter’s second choice, and the candidate with the most votes would receive the party’s nomination.

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