Yesterday’s primary runoff elections in Alabama decided the closely-watched Republican nomination for AL-2, as well as a handful of statewide executive offices and state legislature seats. Even though runoff elections are costly and inefficient, the vast majority of cities and states continue to rely on runoffs to determine the result of primaries in which no candidate garnered more than 50 percent of the vote.
Just 12.7 percent of registered Alabama voters cast a ballot yesterday, which is especially dismal considering how much time and money was spent on campaigning since the initial primary election on June 5.
Martha Roby, the incumbent Congresswoman from AL-2, faced a primary runoff after garnering just under 40 percent of the primary vote. Roby’s meager show of support in the primary was attributed in part to her 2016 announcement that she would not vote for Donald Trump, though she has since walked back those comments and was endorsed by Trump on Twitter prior to the runoff election. Roby is almost guaranteed to win reelection in November in her deeply Republican district, and will remain one of two women in Alabama’s entire nine-member Congressional delegation. Currently, she is one of just 29 Republican women in Congress -- six of whom are not running for reelection to their current seats in 2018 -- making Roby’s presence all the more important for Republican women’s representation.
In the Republican runoff election for Lieutenant Governor, Will Ainsworth narrowly edged out opponent Twinkle Cavanaugh with just 51 percent of the vote. If voters had selected Cavanaugh, she would have made history in November alongside incumbent Governor Kay Ivey: no state has ever had a woman governor and lieutenant governor simultaneously. Yesterday’s runoff results mean that we won’t probably achieve this milestone of women’s representation for a few more years.
Onlookers to the race lamented the negative tone of the Lieutenant Governor’s race in its final few weeks: though both candidates turned to attack ads in the runoff process, Ainsworth ran ads that made fun of Cavanaugh’s unusual first name and her lengthy political career. Whether or not these were gendered attacks is up for debate; however, because Cavanaugh was the strong frontrunner in the initial primary, it is clear that both candidates' negative tactics in the runoff election ended up hurting Cavanaugh's campaign to a greater extent.
Alabama ranks 45 out of 50 in RepresentWomen’s 2018 Gender Parity Index. In order to increase women’s representation, Alabama should consider systemic reforms, like ranked choice voting (RCV), to eliminate the need for runoff elections. Additionally, political parties and PACs in Alabama should adopt recruitment targets to ensure that women candidates can run with the same support as male candidates have always been able to. Alabama has a long way to go to reach parity, but systems reforms present a realistic and effective path forward.