Ready or Not, Here Come Instant Runoffs
Who will be more confused, voters or elections officials? Let's hope it's voters, as their confusion is just about guaranteed.
When voters enter the election booth on Nov. 2, something completely new will stare them in the face. For the first time, North Carolina will use what's known as an instant runoff to decide an election.
The race in question will decide Jim Wynn's replacement on the North Carolina Court of Appeals. Wynn was recently appointed to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The timing of Wynn's appointment and confirmation - the U.S. Senate confirmed him in August - means that the state will use the instant runoff, where voters rank their top three choices for an office, for the first time since legislators approved the method in 2006.
That 2006 legislation only allowed for instant runoffs in narrow circumstances. Those circumstances came to pass because Wynn's appointment was made after the May primary but before an appointee could hold his former seat for another two years.
An instant runoff works like this: Voters look down the list of candidates, ranking their three choices. If no candidate receives 50 percent of the first-choice votes, election officials look to the ballots of voters whose first-choice candidate was eliminated. They then count how many of those voters made one of the top two voter-getters their next highest choice. Those votes are added to the first-round totals to determine the winner.
The potential for confusion is especially great because the court vacancy has generated a ton of interest.
Thirteen candidates have filed for the seat.
They are Raleigh lawyer and former State Bar president Cressie Thigpen, appointed by Gov. Bev Perdue to fill the rest of Wynn's term; former Court of Appeals Judge Doug McCullough; former legislator and state Labor Commissioner Harry Payne;
Superior Court Judge Mark Klass, who lost in the May primary for another Court of Appeals seat; state Assistant Attorney General Anne Middleton; Greensboro lawyer Jewel Ann Farlow, who lost to Wynn in 2008;
Greensboro lawyer John Bloss; Greensboro lawyer Stanley Hammer; Wake Forest lawyer Daniel Garner, who lost a race for a Superior Court judgeship in 2006; Wilmington lawyer and CPA Wesley Casteen; Raleigh lawyer Chris Dillon, a vice president at CapStone Bank; Raleigh lawyer John Sullivan; and Raleigh lawyer Pamela Vesper.
The idea behind instant runoff voting is that it will generate more voter involvement and save voting jurisdictions - in this case, the state - the added expense of holding a special election.
Holding an earlier special primary would, no doubt, create about as much interest as a C-SPAN broadcast of a congressional debate on monetary policy and the Chinese yuan.
So, having voters decide the appeals court contest, essentially by holding two elections at once, will mean more voter participation.
Of course, it could also mean some chaos in tallying the results.
Perhaps the outcome will be further proof that North Carolina could benefit from an appointed judiciary.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association in Raleigh. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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