That’s because when they head to the polls on Nov. 5 to vote for mayor and town council, their ballots will be counted differently than in elections past. Instead of needing a plurality of votes to win as they used to, candidates will need a majority because of a change in election rules town council passed back in August.
It used to be that when all the ballots were cast, the winners were the top candidates who earned the most votes. Under that system there wouldn’t be a runoff unless there was a tie. But this year there are eight candidates running for four at-large, non-partisan council seats, and, when the election is over, there will be a new formula to figure out the winners. It goes like this: Take the amount of votes cast in the election, divide it by the number of seats, and then divide that number by two. A candidate will have to get at least that many votes to have a majority to win.
So, say 20,000 people cast ballots in Mt. Pleasant’s town council election next month. You divide that number by four, and get 5,000. You divide that by two and get 2,500. So, to win a council seat, each candidate would have to get at least 2,500 votes to win.
If one person has that many, but no one else does, that candidate will automatically get a seat on council, and a runoff will take place between the top four other vote getters. If two people get a majority, then a runoff would take place between the next three vote getters, and so on.
“I would say the likelihood of there being a runoff is pretty high,” says Christine Barrett, Mt. Pleasant’s clerk of council. “But there are never any guarantees in an election.”
The same formula works for mayor, but there’s only one open seat in that case and five candidates running, so it’s a lot easier to figure out. Whoever has 50-percent-plus-one has a majority and wins. If no one does, there’s a runoff between the two candidates who receive the most votes.
So, why the change?
According to Mt. Pleasant councilmen Chris Nickels and Chris O’Neal, who pushed for it, it’s better for big elections where many candidates are battling for a seat.
“The current plurality system works fine when only two candidates are running, but it clearly may not represent the interests of most voters if more than two candidates run,” they wrote in an editorial
before the change. “When it’s just two people, a simple majority is by definition obtained by the winner. However, when three or more candidates are in a race, the waters get murkier, and a winner can emerge without a simple majority, but rather just a plurality.”
Having a system that benefits runoffs allows voters to have a second chance to cast a ballot for their chosen candidate, they argued.
Here’s to math.
Mt. Pleasant voters can expect to vote twice for their favorite town council candidate next month thanks to a new elections formula that heightens the odds for a runoff.