My notion was to save everybody — candidates, voters, poll workers (and yes, journalists) — the trouble of going through the motions of a runoff election whose results were preordained.
From the reaction my suggestion triggered, you'd think I'd called for the repeal of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Supporters of first runner-up Young, (who snared 26 percent of the primary vote, compared to Duggan's 67 percent) attacked my suggestion as a possibly racist attempt to disenfranchise Detroiters. They described multiple scenarios in which Young might overtake Duggan in the three months between the primary and the general election, forecasting that participation in the November election would dwarf the anemic 14 percent turnout in August.
That is not what happened, of course.
The Nov. 7 general election turnout was larger — about 100,000 Detroiters cast votes in the mayoral runoff between Duggan and Young, about 36,000 more than the number who turned out for the mayoral primary.
But fewer than one in three of those additional voters preferred Young, whose share of the total vote barely budged, from 27 percent in the primary to 28 percent in the general. Duggan's share rose from 67 to 72 percent.
None of this was unusual, by the way. Former Mayor Dennis Archer posted similar margins in the 1993 and 1997 general elections after winning absolute majorities in the mayoral primaries that preceded them.
Archer told me he'd also been shouted down by defenders of Detroit's silly status quo after suggesting that the City Charter be amended to dispense with general election runoffs when one candidate wins an absolute majority — that is, more than 50 percent of all votes cast — in a multi-candidate primary.
Archer wasn't trying to disenfranchise anyone, either. He was simply pointing out that when one candidate wins more than half the votes cast, no combination of his opponents' electoral strength can beat him in a subsequent election, even if all the runners-up throw their support to the second-place finisher.
This is the same logic that has prompted Grand Rapids, Atlanta and scores of other cities to forgo runoff elections whenever one candidate gets more than half the votes cast in a non-partisan race.
The cost savings are generally insignificant, because election ballots typically include more than one race, so eliminating a single runoff doesn't eliminate the need for a special election.
What eliminating the redundant runoffs would do is allow elected officials who enjoy strong electoral support to spend more time governing and less time campaigning, and raising money to campaign. Isn't that what we elected them to do in the first place?
Distant runners-up who get two bites of the electoral apple will always double their chances of pulling an upset, and there will doubtless be instances in which an unforeseen event between the primary and the general election — a sex scandal, say, or a criminal indictment — generates a significant shift in the electorate's mood.
But doesn't giving voters who don't participate in a non-partisan primary a second chance to vote in the general election reward fair-weather voters at the expense of reliable ones? And doesn't going through the motions of a runoff whose result is a foregone conclusion promote the cynical conviction that voting is a farce?
Hundreds of nations, states and municipalities have enshrined the sensible rule that winning an absolute majority in a multi-candidate race eliminates the necessity, or even the usefulness, of a runoff election. Detroit should join them in embracing the virtues of simple math.
You may contact Brian Dickerson at the Detroit Free Press at: [email protected]