Judicial Race to Test Instant Runoff
No item on the Nov. 2 general election ballot has stirred more bewilderment than the judiciary.
This is not new, but this year voters must choose one of 13 candidates for a recently vacated seat on the N.C. Court of Appeals.
The race is unusual for two reasons: It is to fill an unexpired seat on the court and it is the first time the state has tried the instant runoff method.
The winner will take the seat vacated by the recent appointment of Appeals Court Judge James W. Wynn to a federal district court judgeship. Gov. Bev Perdue appointed Cressie H. Thigpen Jr., of Raleigh, to fill the vacancy until the general election. Thigpen previously served as a special superior court judge.
As if 13 names were not enough to confuse the average voter, the fact that the 13 names are printed three times, each in alphabetical order, adds to the befuddlement. On top of it all, with few exceptions, the candidates are little known to the public. Because judicial offices are now nonpartisan, voters have no way to distinguish candidates according to party affiliation, a factor that serves as a guide for many voters.
The reason for the triple listing is the instant runoff voting system, designed to prevent the need for an expensive second primary that will attract a minuscule number of voters. Judge Wynn's appointment was not made until late summer, too late for a nonpartisan primary in May.
For this particular race, voters will be asked to mark their first choice in the column at the far left, their second choice in the middle column and third choice in the far right column.
The N.C. Board of Elections advises that it won't benefit the candidate or help the voter to mark the same candidate in all three columns, because "your vote for that candidate will only count once." However, the voter may mark just one candidate in the first preference column (left) and leave the middle and right columns unmarked.
Here's how instant runoff votes are counted. If a candidate receives more than 50 percent of the first choice votes when ballots are tallied on election night, then he or she will be certified as the winner. If not - and the large number of candidates makes it unlikely that any one candidate will receive that many first choice votes - then the two top candidates move to the instant runoff, and the winner is determined by adding any second and third choice votes to the initial total vote.
When the count is complete, the candidate with the largest number of first and second choice votes is the winner, to be certified at the official canvass by the state board.
Information about each of the 13 candidates is published in the Voter Guide mailed to every household in the state a few weeks ago. The guide is financed through the voluntary $3 check-off designation on the state income tax form and by a $50 surcharge on the annual dues paid by attorneys to the State Bar.
The candidates are:
n John F. Bloss, of Greensboro, an attorney in private practice and admitted to the bars in three states and 10 federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court.
n J. Wesley Casteen, of Wilmington, an attorney and certified public accountant who works with Carolina Legal Counsel.
n Chris Dillon, of Raleigh, who was admitted to the bar in 1990 and now works as senior vice president of CapStone Bank.
n Jewel Ann Farlow, of Guilford County, an attorney and sole practitioner.
n Daniel E. Garner, of Wake Forest, an attorney and counsel to the N.C. Commissioner of Banks.
n Stan Hammer, of Greensboro, an attorney and litigation partner with Wyatt Early Harris Wheeler LLP.
n Mark E. Klass, of Lexington, a senior resident Superior Court judge since 1999.
n Doug McCullough, of Atlantic Beach, an attorney with Stubbs & Perdue PA in New Bern.
n Anne Middleton, of Raleigh, an appellate attorney with the N.C. attorney general's office.
n Harry E. Payne Jr. of Raleigh, an attorney, former legislator and former commissioner of labor.
n John Sullivan, of Raleigh, an attorney in solo practice, formerly with the state attorney general's office.
n Cressie Thigpen, of Raleigh, incumbent and previously a special Superior Court judge.
n Pamela M. Vesper, of Raleigh, auditor/investigator/ lawyer with the N.C. Real Estate Commission.
Although the contest to fill Wynn's former seat on the Court of Appeals is the only statewide instant runoff election, the instant runoff method is being used for three Superior Court judgeships in Buncombe, Cumberland and Rowan counties.
The other judicial races on the Tuesday ballot are also nonpartisan and many are uncontested.
Sanford Steelman is running unopposed for another seat on the state Court of Appeals, but there are contests for three other seats on the appeals court. These races are: Ann Marie Calabria and Jane Gray; Rick Elmore and Steven Walker; Martha Geer and Dean R. Poirier.
Voters will be asked to decide between Robert C. "Bob" Hunter and Barbara Jackson for associate justice of the N.C. Supreme Court.
In Moore County, the ballot lists four judgeships in District 19B, with all candidates running without opposition. These candidates are Scott Etheridge, Lee W. Gavin, Jayrene Russell Maness and Michael A. Sabiston.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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