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N.C. Voters Can Take a Trip to the Polls this Month
By Brent Laurenz
Published: July 3, 2012
RALEIGH - You might not know it, but North Carolina has an election coming up in a couple of weeks – July 17 to be precise. That is the date of a runoff vote following the May 8 primary.
The reason you may not have heard anything about this second primary is that it features only a handful of races and takes place in the middle of summer when most people are thinking of trips to the beach, not to the polls. So, what is this runoff election all about and why are we having it if so few voters will likely participate?
Well, state law dictates that a primary election candidate must get at least 40 percent of the vote to officially move on to the general election. Should a candidate fall short of that threshold, the top two vote-getters in the primary then square off in a runoff election to be held several weeks later. Eight other states, mainly in the South, have a similar runoff system.
There are a number of reasons why North Carolina holds runoff elections, and there are probably an equal number of reasons for doing away with them as well.
The main argument for holding a runoff seems to be preventing a “fringe” candidate from winning the nomination in a crowded race with only a small share of the vote. Theoretically, without a runoff system in place in a six-person primary, such a candidate could win the nomination with only 20 percent of the vote. Having a runoff functions as a backstop to prevent unelectable candidates from winning the nomination.
Arguments against the runoff center around low rates of voter turnout, coupled with the $5 million price tag that comes with holding a second primary. In an election featuring less than 10 percent turnout, it can appear unwise to spend millions of taxpayer dollars to decide the outcome of a race where one of the candidates may have already received 39.9 percent of his or her party’s vote.
So do we need to modify or eliminate the runoff system here in North Carolina? There are fair arguments for both sides, but it’s important to note that we have tinkered with the system before. In 1989 the threshold was lowered from a majority vote of 50 percent to a substantial plurality of 40 percent to avoid a runoff. Perhaps the General Assembly could discuss dropping it again to 30 or 35 percent.
I’m not sure what the right course of action is moving forward, but as long as we have the current system in place it’s important for North Carolina voters to exercise their rights and cast a ballot.
Nearly all registered voters can participate in the July 17 runoffs, which will include races for Council of State, Congress and the N.C. General Assembly. Profiles on these candidates can be found at NCVoterGuide.org, an online voter guide presented by the nonpartisan N.C. Center for Voter Education and UNC-TV.
Even if you didn’t vote in the May 8 primary you can vote in July – unless you are registered as Libertarian, since there are no Libertarian candidates on the runoff ballot. Republican, Democratic and unaffiliated voters are all able to cast a ballot in the runoff election.
These are important elections that will ultimately help decide who represents us in Raleigh or Washington, and it’s important to not take that for granted. It may be a quiet election, but that’s no excuse to stay home.
Early voting is already underway and runs until July 14. On July 17, your normal polling place will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Get informed on the candidates and go vote.