Runoff election costs Burke $18K

SHARON McBRAYER // Published June 24, 2008 in The Morganton News Herald
MORGANTON - It was the election that almost didn't happen.

Election officials were there but voters didn't show up.

The state held a runoff race on Tuesday between Democrats Mary Fant Donnan and John C. Brooks for commissioner of labor, as well as other legislative and local races. But the only race in Burke County was for commissioner of labor.

Brooks requested the runoff after the primary election in May. Donnan received 330,581 votes and Brooks got 292,391 during the primary election.

"It's been very, very slow," David Campbell, chairman of the Burke County Board of Commissioners, said about the election on Tuesday.

Any registered Democrat or anyone registered unaffiliated who voted a Democratic ballot during the primary was eligible to vote in the run-off race. There are 22,649 registered Democrats in Burke County.

All of the precincts in the county were open.

By 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, the precinct at the Valdese Fire Department had 15 people cast a vote, CoMMA had nine, Jonas Ridge had three and at one precinct in Drexel, no one voted, according to election officials.

Campbell said either people didn't know about the election or didn't care.

"It's really a waste of taxpayers' money," Campbell said. "But the law says you have to do it."

Campbell estimated it cost the county between $18,000 to $20,000 to hold the election. That cost includes opening all precincts and staffing each one with three election workers. The cost doesn't include county staff time to deliver and pick up voting equipment at every precinct.

Johnnie McLean, deputy director for the state Board of Elections, said statewide, the runoff elections are expected to cost between $3.5 million to $5 million.

But McLean doesn't believe anyone would be talking about the cost if the race had been for a different office, such as governor or senate.

"The law is there and it doesn't restrict it to any office," McLean said. "We've been having second primaries just about forever."

There has been some effort in the state to get rid of the need for runoff elections.

A bill the General Assembly passed allowed a pilot election in Cary and Hendersonville called "instant runoff voting," McLean said.

According to the bill, "instant runoff voting" means voters rank up to three of the candidates by order of preference, first, second or third.

McLean said election officials in Cary and Hendersonville considered the voting system successful. She said a bill to allow the voting system is expected to be introduced in the state House this year.