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What triggers a runoff election in Texas?

Texas voters are not required to wear masks while casting their ballots in person for the primary runoffs, the first statewide election during the coronavirus pandemic.
Eric Gay
A voter on an Election Day at a polling location in Texas.

With hundreds of candidates vying for local or statewide office, there is a chance a winner won’t be declared after the primary. Here's a simple breakdown of what triggers a runoff election and when they will be held.

After Tuesday, Texans will have a clearer picture of what the rest of the 2022 election season will look like as the general election stage will be set for most local and statewide races.

But in some contests with multiple candidates, primary season could be extended by a couple months if a runoff election is required to declare an ultimate winner.

If a candidate fails to earn a majority of the total vote, they will head to a runoff with the second-highest vote getter. Texas election law specifies that means that, to avoid a runoff, a candidate must earn more than 50 % of the vote, said Sam Taylor, a spokesperson for the Texas Secretary of State.

“A majority is 50 % plus one vote, it can’t be exactly 50 percent,” he said.

Taylor stressed it’s important for voters to remember election night returns are considered unofficial and it’s only until the votes are canvassed between 10 to 20 days after the election that the results are official. That means, while in some races the margin of victory will be wide enough where a winner can be assumed, the outcomes of closer races might require more time to determine. Election officials will also take time to count provisional ballots and overseas ballots, or fix any issues with mail-in ballots. (A timeline of deadlines to count mail-in, overseas and other ballots can be found here.)

“If [unofficial results] are super tight on election night, then it would have to wait until the canvass to determine whether or not those are going to the runoff,” Taylor said.

Taylor also asked voters to remember they can only vote in the runoff election for the party they voted for in the primary election. However, if a voter did not cast a ballot in the primary, they can vote in either a Democratic or Republican runoff race.

Election day for runoff elections is May 24; early voting begins May 16 and runs through May 20.

Beyond runoffs, Texas candidates for public office may also ask for a recount of ballots in a contested race if certain requirements are met. To initiate a recount, the total vote difference between the candidate requesting one and the candidate who received the most votes must be less than 10 % of the latter’s vote total.

For example, if Candidate A received 950 votes and candidate B received 1,000, a recount could be requested because the difference, 50 votes, is less than 10 % of 1,000.

The secretary of state’s office also clarified that a recount, which is argued in court, is not the same as an election contest. Official rules for and costs associated with a recount can be found here.