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2 Pa. state senators promote having a primary runoff system

  • Ben Wasserstein/WITF
State Sen. Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster) addresses the media during a press conference in the state Capitol Rotunda on Nov. 9, 2021.

 Sam Dunklau / WITF

State Sen. Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster) addresses the media during a press conference in the state Capitol Rotunda on Nov. 9, 2021.

Last year, state Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, won the gubernatorial primary with about 44 percent of the vote. But he never had the support of the GOP establishment, and his campaign did not appear to court independent voters and Democrats. In November, Josh Shapiro beat him easily, by about 15 percentage points.

Now, two Republican state senators want Pennsylvania to adopt a primary runoff system that would force a candidate to win at least 50 percent of the primary vote.

Sen. Ryan Aument, R- Lancaster will be a cosponsor of the bill. He says the change to primary runoffs would mean more people could vote for better-quality candidates and, as a result, promote more qualified candidates to compete for higher office.

“I think the voters benefit by having better choices who are broadly supported in the fall in the general election, which will generate greater voter enthusiasm, from my perspective,” Aument said.

The proposed legislation is not related to Mastriano’s loss, a spokesperson for Aument said.

There are 10 states with a primary runoff system: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas and Vermont.

Democrats, while not wholly opposed to adding Pennsylvania to that list, are not keen on it.

Sen. Maria Collett, D- Montgomery, cited cost as a problem.

“Despite this proposal’s well-sounding intentions, all this will result in is higher taxes for Pennsylvanians to pay for additional elections, and additional demands on voters’ time – when they’re already over-stretched from working multiple jobs, lacking childcare, and facing daunting medical bills,” Collett wrote in a statement.

Collett did not provide data to back her claim about higher taxes.

Collett also has concerns over whether runoffs could hurt the will of the voters if fewer people voted in runoffs.

Aument said runoffs would “promote good government” because people could elect candidates “to these important positions who have the ability to actually get results and get things done, rather than just simply speaking to a narrow segment of the electorate.”

During the 2022 gubernatorial race, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Republican leaders had hoped Mastriano would eventually reach out to undecided voters — but they didn’t see that happen. PennLive reported that several top Republicans endorsed Shapiro.

Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Delaware, is not necessarily opposed to runoffs, but sees other methods to improve elections.

“Having more access to mail-in voting, having it being done earlier as opposed to waiting until the last minute, having it make sure it’s more accurate, and those protections in place that there’s no falsification drop boxes so it’s more convenient and more voters can participate,” Williams said.

Aument said he is having conversations with his Democratic colleagues and is hoping “that folks on both sides of the aisle will see a benefit.”

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