Rule deleting some election runoffs faces review
© St. Petersburg Times
TALLAHASSEE -- There is no second chance for candidates this year. For the first time since 1932, the one with the most votes wins. Period.
Among the high-profile state races in Tuesday's primary election, only Republican attorney general candidate Charlie Crist went home Tuesday night with more than 50 percent of the vote. In the past, anyone falling short of that mark entered a runoff with the next-highest vote getter.
In the race for governor, that would mean former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and Tampa lawyer Bill McBride would engage in a head-to-head race without a third candidate. Instead, the one who gets the most votes wins the nomination and will face Gov. Jeb Bush in November.
Some speculated Wednesday that Reno might have won a runoff because the third candidate, Sen. Daryl Jones, D-Miami, went home with a substantial number of black votes that might otherwise have gone to Reno.
"There's no way to tell for certain," said Reno campaign manager Mo Elleithee. "You play the cards that you're dealt."
Legislators eliminated the runoff for the 2002 elections when they passed election reforms in 2001. The runoff returns in 2004 unless lawmakers kill it for good.
That's just what some lawmakers predicted will happen, since those who decide the issue were elected without a runoff.
"You'll have a self-perpetuating group that wants to do away with it," said incoming House Speaker Johnnie Byrd.
Incoming Senate President Jim King said the runoff will get a lot of scrutiny next year because some legislators like it while others say it is a waste of money.
"There is no good answer," King added.
Rep. Dudley Goodlette, R-Naples, was one of the leaders who agreed to eliminate the runoff during tense Senate and House negotiations in 2001.
"I have mixed feelings about it," Goodlette said Wednesday. "I think giving the voters as many opportunities to vote as possible argues in favor of keeping it, but on the other hand it is costly and not having it solves our overseas ballot problems."
Runoffs remain for local races such as judges and school board.
The push for eliminating the runoff came from Senate Republicans who said they could not justify a primary runoff that draws few voters.
For years the state's elections supervisors and the League of Women Voters tried to get rid of the costly runoff primaries because of low voter turnout, high costs and the delays it caused in getting absentee ballots out for the November general election.
But Democrats who controlled the Legislature until 1996 refused. They liked a tradition that had elected some of the state's best-known Democrats, including former governors Leroy Collins, Reubin Askew, Lawton Chiles and Bob Graham.
Florida was once virtually a one-party state, so winning the Democratic Primary generally meant winning the office. Collins, Askew, Chiles and Graham all placed second in their primary elections but won in runoffs and were elected in the general election.
Former state Sen. Curt Kiser said he thinks McBride is a clear example of a virtually unknown candidate gearing his campaign for a contest without a runoff.
"If Chiles or Askew had been in a winner-take-all primary, they would have run their races differently and might have won anyway," Kiser said.
Runoff supporters argue officeholders should have a clear majority instead a simple plurality.
On Tuesday, Democrats nominated Buddy Dyer for attorney general with just over a third of the vote in a four-way primary.
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From the Times state desk
From the state wire