Virginia’s GOP-led Senate passed a bill Monday that would require candidates for statewide election and for the U.S. Senate to win the outright majority of votes on Election Day or else face a runoff with the second-highest vote-getter.
Describing an election system similar to that of Louisiana, the legislation faces an uncertain future in the state’s Republican-controlled House, where a similar bill died in committee earlier this session. It also would have to be signed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat who was elected in 2013 after receiving less than 50 percent of the vote.
The bill’s Senate patron said the measure would ensure that elected officials receive majority support, and comes after elections in 2013 and 2014 in which several Democratic candidates, including Sen. Mark Warner, were elected to office with less than the majority of the vote.
It passed on a 22-16 vote, with one Democrat joining all 21 Republicans in support. Two Democrats did not vote.
“This will allow us to have the [majority’s] opinion of who it is that they want to lead them,” said Sen. Charles W. Carrico Sr., Grayson Republican.
Sen. Adam Ebbin, Alexandria Democrat, asked why the bill was limited to statewide offices and did not include congressional representatives and members of the General Assembly.
“The statewide objective that we have in this bill would be one of the starting points for us to understand how well this would work, and this would include a larger amount of work to do it for congressional or House and Senate members,” Mr. Carrico said.
Such a measure would have most immediately affected the governor’s and attorney general’s races in 2013 and the U.S. Senate election in 2014.
Mr. McAuliffe defeated then-state Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II with less than 48 percent of the vote, and Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis took about 6.5 percent of the vote.
Indeed, Republicans have cited that figure as proof that Mr. McAuliffe does not have a clear mandate from the voters to try to shepherd through his agenda.
In the 2013 attorney general race, Democrat Mark Herring defeated Republican Mark Obenshain by a razor-thin margin below the 50 percent threshold.
In the 2014 U.S. Senate contest, Mr. Warner defeated Republican Ed Gillespie with about 49 percent of the vote by a margin that would have entitled Mr. Gillespie to seek a recount. But Mr. Gillespie chose not to ask for one, saying he didn’t want to put Virginia voters through a process that in his heart and his head he knew he couldn’t win.
Mr. Sarvis, running on the Libertarian ticket, acquired about more than 2.4 percent of the vote. His vote totals in the gubernatorial and Senate races were more than the margins between the first and second-place finishers, meaning that his presence in the contests could have swung the outcomes.
In debate Monday, Mr. Ebbin also pointed out that former President George H.W. Bush and presidential candidate Bob Dole won Virginia’s Electoral College votes in 1992 and 1996, respectively, without winning the majority of votes.
The measure would need approval from the House of Delegates — and Mr. McAuliffe himself — before becoming law.
It seemingly would turn Virginia toward a system akin to that of Louisiana, where former Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu actually won a three-way contest over GOP state Sen. Bill Cassidy and Republican Rob Maness on Election Day.
But under state law, a candidate needs more than 50 percent of the vote in the “jungle primary” to win.
Though the race ultimately didn’t end up deciding control of the Senate — Republicans had clinched a majority on election night — Mr. Cassidy ended up winning the December runoff contest with Ms. Landrieu by double digits.