Runoffs, Recalls & Primaries in Elections

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Representation & U.S. Electoral Systems

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:01 Election Time
  • 0:51 Runoffs
  • 2:22 Recalls
  • 4:05 Primaries
  • 5:04 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine has an M.A. in American Studies. She is an instructional designer, educator, and writer with a particular interest in the social sciences and American studies.

In this lesson, we examine three varieties of elections, including runoffs, recalls and primaries. You'll look at this topic through the eyes of a city mayor, state governor and potential president of the United States.

Election Time

Governor Jones loves to govern her state. She enjoys all that's involved in the role with one exception. She hates campaigning for elections! At times, this part of her job can feel like it takes away from the other work needed to help the state run smoothly.

Over time, she's come to accept that it's just part of the deal since she's chosen the life of a politician. She's learned to endure the process involved. In some cases, this even means more than one election to obtain or keep a particular political role.

In this lesson, we'll follow the fictional Governor Jones as she remembers the elections of her past and considers what she'll face as she pursues the presidency of the United States. We'll focus on runoffs, recalls, and primaries.


The first time that Governor Jones experienced more than one election for a single role, it was due to runoff voting. In regions that opt for this method, runoffs are a way to determine a winner when no one candidate gains more than 50% of the vote. Instead of only being allowed to cast one vote for one candidate during the election, a voter may have an opportunity to express their preference for more than one candidate.

There are two main methods for how runoff elections work: The two-round system and the alternative vote. Governor Jones remembers that the two-round method was used in the race for governor for her state. First, the voters voted in an initial election. None of the candidates earned more than 50% of the vote. Instead, each had a smaller portion. With a third of the votes, Jones was one of the top two candidates.

Due to the way that her state conducts their elections for governor, a second-round election was then held with the top two candidates. Jones won more than half the vote in this second runoff election and so became governor.

Runoffs do not always involve two rounds of elections, however. Some elections use a ranked voting system in the first election, in which voters place numbers next to candidates to show their order of preference. This is sometimes known as the alternative vote or instant runoff approach.


The runoff voting she experienced during her election as governor was not the first time she'd had two elections close together. Before Jones became governor, she'd worked as a mayor. A few months into her term as mayor, many of the city's voters were unhappy with her performance and wanted to initiate the recall process. Using this process, voters work to remove an elected official before the end of their term. This involves the voters obtaining a certain number of signatures proposing recall.

The proponents of the recall were successful in getting enough signatures, and so this meant that Mayor Jones was then subject to a recall election. In this election, voters would be asked whether they wanted Mayor Jones removed from office or not. The ballot also included a question of who the voters wanted to replace her.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account