Something New in the Election
In the run-up to last June’s Democratic runoff for U.S. Senate, we wondered out loud whether the whole thing was worth it.
The state of North Carolina was wondering the same thing. And now the State Board of Elections, with the blessing of the General Assembly, is about to launch an experiment with an alternative to runoffs, which solves some of the old problems while perhaps creating new ones.
In the statewide May primary election, no candidate for the Democratic Senate nomination got a majority. Nobody even got 40 percent of the vote, which is the cutoff the legislature established in 1989. So the law required that the election machinery swing into action with a second election on June 22, pitting Elaine Marshall against Cal Cunningham. (Marshall won and now faces Republican Sen. Richard Burr in November.)
It was as that runoff loomed that The Pilot editorially questioned whether that game and others like it were worth the candle — especially given that only a tiny splinter of the electorate typically bothers to vote in such elections.
Locally, as it turned out, a grand total of 1,270 of Moore County’s 32,929 eligible voters — or 3.86 percent — went to the polls, in line with averages across the state. Even that measly showing was better than those produced in some other runoffs. In the past, County Elections Director Glenda Clendenin said at the time, “we have had precincts where the only people who voted were the precinct workers.”
Those are shameful figures, of course, but our purpose here is not to decry voter apathy. The subject of the day is whether there’s a better way, or a less bad one. One would be to drop the cutoff from 40 to, say, 30 or 35, but that doesn’t seem right, since 40 is already arbitrary enough.
The only remaining option that makes a lick of sense is the so-called “instant runoff,” under which voters in the first and only primary would designate both No. 1 and No. 2 (and maybe even No. 3) choices. Then, if no one went over the top, elections officials would determine the winner by factoring in the runners-up. That plan has been tried in a few locales here and there. Clendenin was quoted in the earlier editorial as favoring such a system, and we chimed in.
Stand By for Test
Now the instant runoff is about to undergo its first statewide test.
In the Nov. 2 election, the voter will encounter something new on the ballot: a list of 13 candidates for the state Court of Appeals. Beside their names will be three columns: A, B and C. You will need to mark your first choice in Column A, and you’ll have the option of marking other names in the other two columns.
Complicating this picture, and muddying the experiment, is the fact that most voters won’t be familiar with even one of the candidates — never mind two or three. Electronic counting machines will tally the votes in Column A. If nobody gets 40 percent, the computers will come up with a winner by taking the other columns into consideration. Don’t ask us how.
It’s not perfect, but it ought to be quicker and cheaper, and it’s worth a try.
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