Legislature Debates Extending Instant Runoff Pilot

Released June 30, 2008

Contact: Rob Richie, Executive Director, rr@fairvote.org, (301) 270-4616
              Torrey Dixon, FairVote NC, tdixon@fairvote.org, (919) 282-6437
              Aurelie Marfort, Communications, aurelie@fairvote.org, (301) 270-4616

On July 2nd, the North Carolina House standing committee on Election Law and Campaign Finance Reform will consider legislation that would extend the 2006-2007 pilot program allowing cities and counties to try out instant runoff voting. Those expecting to testify in favor of the proposal include leaders of Democracy North Carolina, FairVote North Carolina and the North Carolina  League of Women Voters.

The action follows on the heels of a statewide runoff election with the  lowest turnout ever for a statewide election in North Carolina. Turnout in the runoff election for the Democratic State Labor Commissioner nomination was less than 2%, dropping to 0.8% in Mecklenburg where the election cost more than $120 per voter. Statewide the Labor Commissioner runoff cost between 3.5 million and 5 million dollars to counties.

FairVote North Carolina director Torrey Dixon commented, "Ensuring winners of party nominations are not opposed by a majority of primary voters is a laudable goal. But the delayed, two-round runoff used in North Carolina isn't working. Cities and counties should be able to explore instant runoff voting as an option."

With instant runoff voting (IRV), voters have the option to rank candidates in order of preference rather than select only one choice. If no candidate receives a first choice majority, the two candidates with the most votes advance to the runoff.  Ballots cast for eliminated candidates are added to the totals of the runoff candidates according to which candidate is ranked next on each ballot.

IRV is not new to North Carolina. Last year it was used to replace two rounds of voting for Cary and Hendersonville municipal elections. Dr. Michael Cobb, NC State University political science professor, conducted exit poll surveys indicating cities in both cities strongly preferred their new voting method to runoff elections. The proposed legislation (section three of PCS  of S-1263) would extend the pilot program that allowed Cary and Hendersonville to use IRV in 2007.

After an extensive study process, use of instant runoff voting for state and local elections recently won overwhelming support at the annual convention of the North Carolina league of Women Voters. IRV's advantages over delayed runoffs include: 1) less money spent on running elections; 2) less demands for candidates on raising money; 3) higher turnout in one decisive election; 4) greater certainty that overseas and military voters will have their vote count.

FairVote is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that studies the impact of electoral rules and systems on turnout, representation and electoral competition. To view more on instant runoff voting, visit http://www.instantrunoff.com and www.fairvote.org/irv and call (301) 270-4616. In North Carolina, contact FairVote North Carolina at (919) 286-5985.