April 03, 2006
Why it only takes a plurality

You unfortunately can't see it right now, but Nicholas Beaudrot left a comment on this post asking how it is that one can win the Governorship of Texas without a majority of the vote. The answer, of course, is that's the law. Let's take a look.

The overriding statute is this one.

§ 2.001. PLURALITY VOTE REQUIRED. Except as otherwise provided by law, to be elected to a public office, a candidate must receive more votes than any other candidate for the office.

In other words, the default is that only a plurality is needed. In fact, we have seen such a result, just two statewide election cycles ago:

Comptroller of Public Accounts - 1998 general election

Carole Keeton Rylander REP 1,821,231 49.54%
Paul Hobby DEM 1,801,008 48.99%
Alex Monchak LIB 53,536 1.45%
Race Total 3,675,775

Yes, Carole Keeton Strayhorn Rylander, the top votegetter statewide in 2002, won her current office with a non-majority tally. Obviously, this is not the kind of vote distribution anyone expects for the 2006 Governor's race, but it's an example of what we're talking about.

So what are the exceptions to this?

Exception the first: Primaries.

§ 172.003. MAJORITY VOTE REQUIRED. Except as otherwise provided by this code, to receive a political party's nomination, a candidate in a primary election must receive a majority of the total number of votes received by all the candidates for the nomination.

Which is why we have a runoff election scheduled for next Tuesday. Given the undoubtedly microscopic turnout that we're going to get for these suckers, it seems a bit laughable to claim that any result achieved on Tuesday the 11th constitutes a "majority" vote in any meaningful sense, but there you go. And hey, if it weren't for that Al Edwards would be cruising back to Austin without a care in the world. So that's something.

Exception Numero Two-o: Special elections to fill vacancies in the State House and State Senate.

§ 203.003. MAJORITY VOTE REQUIRED. To be elected in a special election for an unexpired term, a candidate must receive a majority of the total number of votes received by all candidates for the unexpired term.

Section 203 of the electoral code is also cited as the default template for vacancies in Congress and the US Senate - see here for the applicability statement of that section, and note sections 204.005 and 204.021 for the specific citation of Section 203.

So, for state and county elections - that is, the elections held in even-numbered years - the rule is that if it's in November, the high score wins. Otherwise, you need to clear that magic 50% plus one hurdle.

What about municipal and other local elections, like school board elections? I did not find the relevant laws for those contests (I'm probably looking in the wrong place - if an actual lawyer wants to set me straight, please send me an email), but we know that Houston and San Antonio (to name two) do require majority votes. I'd guess this is the norm around the state - if I ever get this comments problem fixed, you can chime in here with your location's rules. If this is true, then the default of plurality-only is really more exception than rule, since it only applies to elections in November of even-numbered years for expired terms of office. In any case, that's the law.

Hope that clears things up. Bottom line: It only takes a plurality this November.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 03, 2006 to That's our Lege | TrackBack