When like-minded candidates split the vote of the majority, the results can distort the will of the electorate, resulting in election winners who lack broad support. This common occurrence is called vote-splitting, and it’s bad for democracy.
Unfortunately, it happens a lot in democracies that rely on choose-one voting. During this year’s congressional primary, nearly 30 percent of congressional districts featured a vote-split on one or both sides of the aisle. Vote-splitting happened in liberal districts, conservative districts, and especially in competitive ones, whose winners decided the makeup of the new congressional majority.
Ohio Senate Primary: The Trump Endorsement
Winner: JD Vance (32.2%)
Statewide contests in Ohio have long been a political bellwether, and this year’s Senate race was no exception. As in many other places, President Trump’s endorsement loomed large in the contest. JD Vance received the endorsement and won a 7-candidate contest with just 32.2% of the vote. Vance’s opposition split evenly among two other candidates, both earning more than 23 percent of the vote. This race went on to be one of the most expensive and closely watched of the cycle.
Virginia 7th Congressional: The 50/50 District
Winner: Yesli Vega (28.9%)
Over the past two election cycles, this congressional district – outside of Washington, DC – has been the most competitive in America, decided by less than 10,000 votes both times. Competitive districts were primed for vote-splits during the primary this year. On the Republican side, Yesil Vega prevailed in a six-candidate race with just 28.9 percent of the vote. Overall, four candidates finished within 5,000 votes of the winner.
Despite the vote-split, the 7th district is one of the most expensive contests of the cycle. According to The Federal Election Commission, both candidates vying for Virginia’s 7th District are bringing in and spending money at historic levels. More than $3.7 million has been raised in the district from July 1 to September 30,
Illinois 1st Congressional: The Open-seat Vote-split
Winner: Jonathan Jackson
When longtime incumbents retire, vote-splits often decide the new leadership. Overall, vote-splits occur in open-seat districts at a disproportionately high rate, and in this case, it happened on both sides of the primary. With the retirement of incumbent Bobby Rush, this solid Democratic seat had a 17-candidate primary. Jonathan Jackson won the safe seat with just 28 percent of the vote. Overall, 46.7% of the vote-splits in the congressional primary took place in an open-seat district.
Oregon 6th Congressional: The bipartisan vote-split in a new district
Winners: Andrea Salinas (36.3%), Mike Erickson (34.4%)
The 10-year census and accompanying reapportionment create new congressional districts, consistent with population shifts. Without incumbency, these new districts are frequently the most competitive races on the electoral map. Unfortunately, the new districts are ripe for vote-splits in the primary. The new sixth district in Oregon hosted a bipartisan vote-split. Democrat Andrea Salinas won a 9-candidate contest with 36.3% of the vote. Similarly, GOP Republican Mike Erickson prevailed in a 7-candidate contest with 34.4% of the vote.