In Virginia Primary, Lack of Majority Mandate

Released June 21, 2005

On June 14, fewer than 4% of Virginia’s registered voters turned out to vote in the primary to choose Republican and Democratic nominees for statewide offices and the state legislature.  Three candidates didn’t even win a majority of the vote in their primary, including the Democrats’ nominee for lieutenant governor.  As Virginia heads toward a November gubernatorial race with three candidates and uncertain turnout, it’s high time the state revisit its plurality voting rules.

The three winners all may have been the strongest candidates in their field, but the electoral system deprived Virginia voters of certainty. Each winner finished only 7%  or less ahead of the second-place candidate, with a far greater percentage of voters supporting candidates finishing outside the top two. Here are the details of each race:

  • In the most high-profile race in the Democratic primary, the nominee for Lt. Governor, Leslie Byrne won with 33% of the vote, meaning that 67% of primary voters supported other candidates as their first choice. Byrne finished 7% ahead of second-place candidate Viola Baskerville.
  • Democratic State House nominee Roslyn Tyler in State House District 75 won with 62.2% of voters voting against her. Garnering 37.8% of the vote, Tyler had a margin of victory of 4.9%.
  • Democratic State House nominee David Englin came out ahead despite 69.6% of the voters voting against him. With a winning percentage of 30.4%, Englin finished  with a 5.3% margin of victory.

Virginia may well have a split vote for governor in the general election, as Republican State Senator Russel Potts is mounting a vigorous independent bid this November against Republican nominee Jerry Kilgore and Democratic nominee Tim Kaine.

According to Rob Richie, Executive Director of FairVote – The Center for Voting and Democracy, “The primary results, combined with the prospects of a fractured vote for governor this November, show why we need instant runoff voting. In elections marked by anemic voter turnout, it’s even more important that winning candidates have majority support. With instant runoff voting Virginians would have been assured that winners at least represented a majority of the primary electorate.”

In recent years, instant runoff voting (IRV) has made rapid advances across the country, having won at the ballot in states such as California, Michigan and Washington. After a landslide vote in March, voters in Burlington, Vermont, will use IRV to elect their major representatives starting in 2006. Voters in San Francisco gave IRV high marks after using it for the first time to elect their Board of Supervisors this past November. All overseas military voters from Arkansas will cast IRV ballots in upcoming runoffs. Additionally, IRV has garnered the support of groups such as the League of Women Voters, the Grange, and individuals such as Sen. John McCain, Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., and DNC Chairman Howard Dean.

Under IRV, runoffs are simulated in a single election by asking voters to rank their choices instead of choosing just one candidate. IRV avoids expensive runoffs that can at times cost millions of dollars. The system also tends to encourage voter turnout, positive campaigning, and a diverse field of candidates.
For more information, or to seek comment on these issues, contact Ryan O’Donnell, FairVote’s Communications Director at (301) 270-4616 or, or visit For more on instant runoff voting (IRV), see