Runoffs, Recalls & Primaries in Elections

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  • 0:01 Election Time
  • 0:51 Runoffs
  • 2:22 Recalls
  • 4:05 Primaries
  • 5:04 Lesson Summary
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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.

Runoffs

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.

Recalls

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.

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