Come Nov. 6, it's winner take all in Texas.There are no runoffs and no do-overs.Unlike Texas' primaries, where candidates must surpass 50 percent to claim victory, that threshold is not in play during the general election."You can win with under 50 percent," said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. "It arises frequently enough."Governors, state senators and other elected officials have landed in political offices simply by receiving a plurality -- the most votes.None may be more widely remembered than the win captured by Gov. Rick Perry in 2006.He won with 39.03 percent to Democrat Chris Bell's 29.79 percent, Independent Carole Keeton Strayhorn's 18.13 percent, Independent Kinky Friedman's 12.43 percent and Libertarian James Werner's 0.61 percent, state election records show.The lack of runoffs in the general election means that an already long political year -- in which Texans have headed to the polls five times -- will finally come to a close after Nov. 6."Voters, unfortunately, may [have] become 'election-weary,'" said Allan Saxe, a political science associate professor at the University of Texas at Arlington.Tight race?State law requires primary candidate nominations to be decided by a majority vote. That's why there are runoffs in Texas' primary elections.The law, however, does not have the same requirement for general election candidates seeking state and federal offices."Historically, because Texas was a one-party Democratic state for 100 years, the understanding was that whoever won the Democratic primary would win the general election," Jillson said. "In the last 20 years, it has been the other way around."Candidates generally win by plurality when one or more third-party candidates -- Libertarians, Green Party, Independents -- are on the ballot in a tight race between a Republican and a Democrat.Texans other than Perry have moved into the Governor's Mansion after not quite gaining half the vote.In 1861, E.M. Pease won with 36.67 percent, and F.R. Lubbock won in 1861 with 38.11 percent."This usually happens when it's a close race and there are three or four candidates," Jillson said. "If the [minor-party candidates] draw 3 or 4 percent," a candidate can win by plurality.In other races, locally, former Fort Worth Councilwoman Wendy Davis won her seat in the Texas Senate four years ago with 49.91 percent of the vote. Her opponent at the time, incumbent state Sen. Kim Brimer, R-Arlington, drew 47.52 percent of the vote and Libertarian Richard Cross had 2.56 percent.This year, as Davis seeks re-election, she faces a challenge from state Rep. Mark Shelton, R-Fort Worth. But there is no third-party candidate in the race.Several presidents have also won with less than half the vote, including George W. Bush, who won with 47.8 percent of the popular vote in 2000; Bill Clinton, who won with 42.9 percent of the popular vote in 1992; John F. Kennedy, who won with 49.7 percent of the popular vote in 1960; and Abraham Lincoln, who won with 39.8 percent of the popular vote in 1860."There have been many presidential elections with the winner only by plurality ... when there was a strong third or fourth party or independent on the ballot," Saxe said.ExceptionsThe only exceptions to the plurality rule in this election are the local races that were added to the end of the general election ballot.Nine Tarrant County cities and school districts -- Benbrook, Everman, Grapevine, Pelican Bay, Saginaw, Trophy Club, White Settlement and the Lake Worth and Northwest school districts -- combined their elections with the general election and have local offices and propositions on the ballot."Some local elections being held jointly with the state elections on the November ballot may require a majority vote and thus some jurisdictions will have runoffs in December," said Rich Parsons, a spokesman for the Texas secretary of state's office.To see a sample ballot, go to www.tarrantcounty.com/eVote. For other information, call 817-831-8683.Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610Twitter: @annatinsley
Early voting for the Nov. 6 general election runs through Friday: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. today and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.