Runoff Elections: Tips to Win!

by Joe Fuld (He/Him)

Runoff Elections

Runoff Elections: Tips for the Win! 

Runoff election season is here. After a hard-fought election, your campaign made it into the runoff election. Depending on election law, these runoff elections could be held weeks or months after the original election. The type of voter who turns out for a runoff is different from other types of voters. They turnout more often and are more partisan.  So how do you effectively communicate your message and make sure you win in the runoff election? 

Regardless of if you were the top vote getter or came in second place, below are a few tips on winning your runoff election: 

Target people who voted in the first election -The best indicator of if someone would vote in a runoff is if they voted in the original election that preceded the runoff. While you may have targeted people who voted in 1 of 3 general elections for the first election, the best targets for the runoff will be people who voted in the election that preceded it. This is not to say that you can’t expand the universe if budget allows, but these voters should be a foundational part of your total communication universe. 

Know under/over votes- Do you know what voter fall off or undervotes are? This is important for down ballot runoffs. You see that 20,000 people voted in your specific race in the original election. You then go into your campaign voter file and see that the total voters in your district were 25k. How could this be? The reason is undervotes and overvotes. Undervotes are people in your district who came out to vote but didn't vote in all the races. Most of the time, these people didn’t know enough about races further down the ballot to make a selection. Overvotes are voters who marked multiple candidates in the race in which they needed to make a single selection. Undervotes and overvotes are a great target for your runoff campaign because if they didn’t know enough about you the first election, or they made a mistake by voting for you and the third candidate who didn’t make the runoff, they should be included in your communication universe this time around.  So, think about those undervotes for your campaign. Maybe past infrequent voters who turned out may be a good target for this, also look at newer voters who turned out. These are both great targets for more engagement.  

Resolicit your previous donors immediately - Doing immediate fundraising to past donors, even the smallest donations, does two important things. 1. It helps get money. 2. It engages your most ardent supporters to help in your campaign. Every vote matters, even more in a runoff.  

Communicate to voters that there IS a runoff - When communicating around a runoff election, it’s important that you start off by telling voters that there IS a runoff in the first place. Most voters are not as plugged into politics as you are. They certainly don’t know when the runoff is. Most runoff elections are held on random Tuesdays that switch all the time. When communicating with voters around the runoff, make sure you communicate the fact that there is a runoff election and what date that will be held on. 

Hone your message - Do a quick review of your past campaign polling and message box and make sure your team knows what your message for the runoff is. Make sure your contrast is clear and that you have defined why folks should vote for you. This may seem obvious but often the reason folks got in a runoff in the first place is because there was not a clear reason to vote for a candidate. Make sure you are looking at this from the perspective of the voter.    
Use your coalition to engage your core voters immediately- Make sure you are talking to your coalition and reaching out to them in a methodical way. Often campaigns make assumptions that their previous coalition is with them and that they know what help you need for the runoff – make sure you have clear specific asks for your coalition members.   

Check with your lawyer – Finance laws and reporting for runoffs can be slightly different. Make sure you are checking with your attorney on what you need to be doing for the runoff as far as reporting and other campaign finance issues.  

Target vote by mail/absentee voters- In some districts, if you registered to vote by mail or absentee in the first election, you’ll automatically get a ballot for the runoff election. Make sure you know the rules around vote by mail/absentee voting in the runoff election and, if resources allow, follow each ballot with a chase piece that reminds voters about your core messaging. 

Get the endorsement of the third-place finisher- It’s true that endorsements can be over relied on by many campaigns. That said, if there is one endorsement that couldn’t hurt, it would be the endorsement from the third candidate who didn’t make the runoff. And if, for whatever reason, you can’t get this person’s endorsement, it’s important to at least think of the type of person who would have supported the third-place candidate and doing specific outreach to this group of people. 

Don’t stop knocking on doors! - After you win a runoff, it’s more important than ever to hit the doors and communicate face-to-face with voters. Sure, the day after Election Day, give yourself one day off to rest, but you should be right back out on the doors the next day, talking with people who voted in the original election about how you’re the best choice in the runoff election. 

Use phones and texting too - There is less voter contact than in a general election so anything that reminds voters to vote in a runoff can be critical. Make sure you run a real field program.  

Reuse those old signs – Find the old signs, get stickers with a new date if they have the wrong election date, and get those signs that were unused or put in medians and get them in yards.  

If you weren’t the top vote getter, you can still win -  So, you came in second in the original election. This is no reason to give up in the runoff election. The people who turn out for runoff election tend to be the real hard-core voters. And luckily, these are just the type of people who really value face-to-face political discussions and love to dig in on the issues. If you weren’t the top vote getter in the original election, make sure you’re hitting the doors twice as hard and talking with voters. 

Fire up your base for fundraising and voting too! - It’s well known that instilling a sense of urgency or a deadline is a fundraising best practice. That’s why fundraising for a runoff is great because there’s never a higher sense of urgency than a runoff election. Make sure you are re-soliciting your past donors and telling them that you need their help, now more than ever, to cross the finish line for the runoff. If they’ve already made an investment in your campaign and you’ve proven your viability by getting into a runoff, there’s a great argument to be made to potential funders. 

Remember donors are voters too. Engaging even the smallest donor can vest them in the campaign and get them to vote.   

Inform voters how to vote and where to vote –  Early vote locations, drop off boxes, and the dates for early vote can change during the runoff and usually do. Make sure you are providing easy to understand information on dates and locations. Maps and clear location lists work well.  

Create collection points - Runoff elections are usually very close. So, creating or visiting gatherings that end in voting can make a difference. Gathering folks to vote early or going to senior centers as the absentee ballots go out can also make a difference. Connect and get to know the runoff voter and think about where they gather and why. Make sure you have a strategy to meet, engage, and encourage runoff voting.    Then go meet them or create your own collection points.   

Questions about runoff elections? Drop us a line here