Local legislators open to runoff voting system

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

GOP sheriff candidate could win primary with 17 percent of vote

State Sen. David Sater, R-Cassville, left, and State Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob

With the absence of a runoff system in Missouri, one of the six Republican candidates for sheriff could mathematically win the primary with just 17 percent of the vote, and local legislators and officials are weighing in on the need for runoff elections.

Some states, such as Arkansas and Oklahoma, require a candidate in a race of three or more to garner more than 50 percent of the vote to win a primary or election. If no candidate gets 50 percent, the top two vote-getters face off in a one-on-one runoff election.

Gary Youngblood, Barry County clerk, said he believes a runoff system would be costly and is unnecessary, even though a winner could be named with approval from less than one in five voters countywide.

"A runoff would cost probably about $25,000 to the county, paid for out of the general fund," he said. "We've done the same thing for 100 years, and I don't see a need to change anything now. It may be good for newspapers, but it wouldn't be good for taxpayers."

State Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, said he may support a runoff system, but would advocate lowering the threshold from 50 percent to maybe 35 percent.

"In [1972], we had something like 26 candidates run for sheriff, so a six-way primary is not unprecedented," he said. "Having a runoff would change the outcome of an election in some cases, but it's just a matter of preference. If someone got 49 percent of the vote, I think they could make up that 1 percent difference in a runoff, but it depends on the circumstances."

"I don't know if it needs to be 50 percent because of the cost, but if it's set at, say, 35 percent or adjusted based on the number of candidates, that wouldn't be bad."

The election Fitzpatrick referred to was in August 1972, when 12 Democrats and 12 Republicans ran in their respective primaries. With 2,171 votes cast, Lige Frost carried the Democratic ballot with 524 votes (24 percent) and Vergil Pugh came in second with 348 votes (16 percent). On the Republican side, 5,327 votes were cast, with Vernon Still taking first with 1,229 votes (23 percent) and Howard Bounous coming in second with 1,155 votes (22 percent).

Still went on to win the race in the November 1972 general election by a 59-41 margin.

Sater said he had not given runoff elections much thought.

"I think that's a pretty good idea Arkansas has, and I know good and well no one will get 50 percent if there's six candidates," he said. "I would not be against runoffs. I know since I have lived in Cassville, we have had several sheriff races with 10-12 candidates. Elections do cost money, but I would consider supporting a runoff system."

Fitzpatrick said he thinks it would be interesting to hear the opinion of the voters on runoff elections.

"But, elections are not cheap," he said. "Still, you want an election to reflect the will of the people."

If Missouri had runoffs, Fitzpatrick himself would have had to win a runoff in 2012, when there were three candidates for his position.

"I won that three-way race with 42 percent, and the next guy had 33, then 25, so that's an interesting question," he said. "If there had been a runoff, I think I would have gotten that additional 8 points, but it's always possible I wouldn't have."

Seven individuals -- six Republicans and one Democrat -- filed for the top law enforcement post in Barry County this year. Those who filed include: former Missouri State Highway Patrolman Travis Hilburn, R-Cassville; Cassvillle Police Detective Danny Boyd, R-Purdy; former Barry County deputy and current Cassville Police Officer James A. Smith, R-Aurora; Cassville Police Officer and former Exeter officer Justin Fohn, R-Cassville; Barry County Lt. Terry Meek, R-Washburn; former FBI Agent Gary Davis, R-Cassville; and Barry County Deputy Justin Ruark, D-Cassvile.

The GOP candidates will square off in an August primary, with the winner taking on Ruark in the November general election.

Sater represents Senate District 29, which includes Barry, Lawrence, McDonald, Stone and Taney counties.

Fitzpatrick represents House District 158, which includes Barry County and portions of Stone and Lawrence counties, including the western portion of Pierce City.

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