THE BLOG
04/07/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Scott Lee Cohen Shows the Need for Runoffs in Primary Elections

Illinois primaries should use a runoff, like Chicago elections, to make sure we don't nominate someone the majority of voters wouldn't want.

Scott Lee Cohen's 26% victory (ahead of well-respected Deputy Majority Leader Art Turner's 22% showing) in a six-man race has shown the danger of our plurality elections. When anyone can win with 26% of the vote... anyone can win.

Republicans might also be feeling a bit concerned with their gubernatorial nominee, Senator Bill Brady. He earned 20% of the vote - a virtual tie with his colleague Senator Kirk Dillard. Conventional wisdom suggests the conservative Downstater Brady might be a weaker candidate than the majority of Republicans would have liked.

The easiest way to fix this problem is to hold a runoff election. If no one earns the support of the majority of voters, then no one has yet earned the nomination. A runoff a month or two later between the top two candidates would settle the question and ensure the nominee has the most support in the party.

Does anyone doubt that Representative Turner would earn more support among Democrats than Scott Lee Cohen? And while it's an open question whether Senator Dillard would earn more support than Senator Brady among Republicans, it's a question that ought to be asked and answered in a runoff election. A runoff would guarantee the right person who represent the party, because that person would earn a majority of support, not just 20 or 26 percent in a multi-candidate lottery.

Some political scientists would note that primary runoff elections were traditionally used in Southern states to deny blacks a chance to ever elect anyone. In the land of Obama, that isn't a problem. African-American candidates can earn a majority of the primary vote in Illinois. Just ask Robin Kelly, who earned 58% of the vote this week (or Jesse White).

Some others might argue that spending another month or two in a runoff election would take too long. With our early February primary, there is plenty of time to hold a runoff in late March or April. And another month of exposure to the top two candidates in a runoff election would be a very helpful thing for democracy.

Both Chicago and Springfield voters are used to runoffs in city elections. The Illinois General Assembly should require the use of runoffs for statewide primary elections as well to avoid any more mistakes where the person the majority of the party wouldn't want wins the primary.