Testimony from:
Matthew Germer, Director, Governance, R Street Institute

In SUPPORT of HB 4022, “An Act . . . to provide for the instant voting runoff method of conducting municipal elections.”

January 25, 2024

House Judiciary Committee, Constitutional Laws Subcommittee

Chairman Jordan and Members of the Committee:

My name is Matthew Germer, and I conduct research on election reform for the R Street Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy research organization. Our mission is to engage in policy research and outreach to promote free markets and limited, effective government across a variety of policy areas, including election reform. This is why House Bill 4022 is important to us.

When it comes to election reform, state legislatures should be focused on improving the voting experience for all eligible voters while making efficient use of taxpayer dollars and ensuring trustworthy elections. House Bill 4022 represents such an improvement by providing municipalities the option to use instant runoff elections for their municipal races.

As it stands, many South Carolina municipalities have already recognized the value that a majority threshold of support brings to an electoral system and have already implemented runoff elections for their local offices.[1] While runoffs can be a helpful way of ensuring that winning candidates are broadly supported, these elections are costly to taxpayers and add to the exhaustion with politics felt by many voters.[2] The solution is not to curtail the options available to local governments, but rather to give them a time-saving and financially prudent solution: instant runoff elections.

Instant runoff elections ask voters to rank-order the candidates to determine which candidate enjoys the broadest support among voters. Not only does this system save money and time, but it also gives more voice to the voters. If voters are comfortable with more than one candidate, they can say so. If they prefer a lesser-known candidate, they can show support without worrying about the spoiler effect. And because an instant runoff continues until one candidate reaches majority support, voters have more opportunities to contribute to that victory.[3] In short, an instant runoff empowers voters.

Although instant runoffs bring many benefits, some may worry that a new voting system will be confusing for voters or leads to some form of “disenfranchisement.” These concerns might lead some to prefer a ban on instant runoffs under House Bill 4591, a measure also in front of the subcommittee today. Fortunately, these concerns do not bear out in practice.

My research shows that voters are not confused by instant runoffs, and, instead, they are highly likely to appreciate the experience of voting in an instant runoff election, particularly in the context of a nonpartisan local election where voters are more likely to support multiple candidates.[4] Moreover, concerns over “disenfranchisement” are unfounded. If a voter chooses only one candidate and that candidate turns out to be unpopular, their vote means no less with an instant runoff than it does under a winner-take-all system. Instant runoffs give all voters more power, not less. Perhaps this is why voters who use instant runoffs for local elections in places like Utah have found it easy and enjoyed using it.[5]

While it is understandable to have concerns about adjusting the way votes are cast and counted, a ban on instant runoffs at the municipal level is particularly concerning because it undermines limited-government principles. The conservative approach should be to let each locality decide for itself how to select its leaders, giving room for each city to find what works best for their situation, whether that be a winner-take-all election, a traditional runoff or an instant runoff.

Ultimately, instant runoffs show respect to taxpayers and provide citizens a more effective way to vote. As a result, I urge the subcommittee to set aside House Bill 4591—which seeks to ban instant runoffs—and instead give voters more power over their local elections by advancing House Bill 4022.

Thank you for your time,

Matthew Germer
Director, Governance
R Street Institute
(714) 609-6288
[email protected]

[1] Freeman Stoddard, “ELECTION RESULTS: Local elections decided by runoff races,” FOX Carolina, Nov. 21, 2023. https://www.foxcarolina.com/2023/11/22/election-results-local-elections-decided-by-runoff-races.

[2] “The Costs of Runoffs in South Carolina,” Better Ballot SC. https://www.betterballotsc.org/runoff_costs.

[3] Matthew Germer, “Restoring Losers’ Consent: A Necessary Step to Stabilizing Our Democracy,” R Street Policy Study No. 240, September 2021. https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Final-No.-240.pdf.

[4] Matthew Germer, “An Analysis of Ranked Choice Voting in Maine,” R Street Shorts No. 106, September 2021. https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Final-Short-106.pdf.

[5] Kyrene Gibb & Quin Monson, Ph.D., “Utah Ranked Choice Voting Municipal Election Survey,” Y2 Anaytics, 2021. https://le.utah.gov/interim/2021/pdf/00004023.pdf.