'Instant runoff' could save time, money

Dan Bowens // Published June 24, 2008 in WRAL.com
North Carolina voters had a second chance to pick the nominees for a number of races across the state Tuesday. Candidates in races too close to call last month were back on the ballot for the state's second primary.

Gary Bartlett, state elections director, predicted that turnout would be just a fraction that recorded in May, when the heated Democratic presidential primary drew 37 percent of all registered voters.

He said runoff elections almost always draw fewer than 10 percent of voters, and he admitted Tuesday's turnout could set a record – at the low end.

The state has tested another means of deciding close races. It's called "instant run-off" and would eliminate the need for a second round of voting.

Joseph Huberman, one of the few who showed up to cast a ballot Tuesday, said he was willing to consider another way to have his vote counted that would make it easier and save the state money.

Tuesday's runoff could cost the counties from $3.5 million to $5 million to administer, deputy state elections director Johnnie McLean said.

In an instant primary situation, voters cast a three-column ballot.

   1. They can mark their first, second and third choices in each race.
   2. On election night, votes in the first column are counted.
   3. If no one candidate earns a majority of the votes, an instant runoff pits the top two vote-getters.
   4. Election officials then look at ballots where those candidates were the second or third choice and add those votes to the candidate totals.

Cary was a test site for "instant runoff" in this year's primary. State leaders were scheduled to meet Wednesday to discuss the results of that test.

Until a statewide system is finalized, Huberman can be expected to make the trip to his polling place.

"We've voted in almost every election. I think we've only missed one in the 30 years that we've been here," he said.