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2 Senators to introduce primary runoff election bill

Because of the large field of candidates in last year’s Republican primaries for governor and U.S. Senate, neither of the two nominees received a majority of their party’s votes.

Two GOP state legislators in Harrisburg don’t think this is a healthy way to secure a nomination and have begun circulating a memo to fellow Republicans asking them to sign on to a bill they propose introducing soon that would force a runoff between the top two candidates in the event neither has won a majority.

State Sens. Frank Farry, R-Bucks, and Ryan Aument, R-Lancaster, are sponsoring the legislation because they find that large fields for key statewide office are becoming more usual lately.

They cited last year’s Republican primaries for governor and U.S. Senate as the catalyst for their decision to gather support for the legislation.

In the Republican gubernatorial primary, Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, received 44% of the vote compared to second-place finisher Lou Barletta, former U.S. Representative and mayor of Hazleton, who had 20% in the nine-candidate race, although Jake Corman, R-Centre, dropped out just before the primary, however, his withdrawal came too late for his name to be removed from the ballot.

In the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, Dr. Mehmet Oz captured the nomination with just 31.2% of the vote, nipping second-place finisher David McCormick by about 900 votes or a mere 0.1%. There were seven candidates on the ballot, including Dr. Nche Zama of the Poconos, who finished dead last with only about 16,000 votes, or roughly 1.2% of those cast.

In both cases, the Democratic candidates – Josh Shapiro for governor and John Fetterman for U.S. Senate – went on to win the General Election.

Republicans had a similar occurrence in the 2018 gubernatorial primary when former state Sen. Scott Wagner, R-York, won his party’s nomination with 44.3% of the vote, then lost in the General Election to incumbent Democrat Tom Wolf.

In their memo to colleagues, Farry and Aument pointed out that in contests with large fields of contestants, a candidate can win with the support of only a small fraction of voters.

“This leads to voters feeling dissatisfied and unrepresented in general elections, especially in areas where there is one-party dominance, and the winner of the dominant party primary election is almost always the winner of the general election,’’ they wrote in their memo. They believe their legislation, if passed, would mean that the winner of a primary would emerge as a clear consensus pick.

Such a runoff election scenario creates the possibility for a second primary election if no candidate receives at least 50% of the vote. The runoff would pit the top two vote-getters in the primary against each other in the runoff. Both legislators stressed that their proposed legislation is aimed only at the primary elections, not the General Election.

If the legislation passes, Pennsylvania would join 10 states that currently require a runoff in the primary under these circumstances. They are: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas and Vermont.

History is on these legislators’ side. Since 1976 in the Keystone State, a candidate in the primary who has not won majority support has won the General Election on just three occasions, and in each of those cases, the opposition party candidates had also failed to get a majority of the vote in their primaries.

The lesson is clear: Candidates are unlikely to win an election for major statewide office in Pennsylvania unless they can secure at least 50% of their party’s primary vote.

By BRUCE FRASSINELLI | tneditor@tnonline.com

The foregoing opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editorial Board or Times News LLC.