What If They Had a Runoff and Nobody Came?

Released June 26, 2008

Rob Richie  Executive  Director
rr@fairvote.org  (301) 270-4616 
Torrey Dixon  FairVote North Carolina Director  tdixon@fairvote.org  (919) 282-6437 
Aurelie Marfort  Communications Assistant  aurelie@fairvote.org  (301) 270-4616 

On June 24th election workers had a lonely experience in polling places in North Carolina such a precinct in New Hanover that recorded one vote. After unusually high voter turnout in the May 6 primary timed with the presidential primary, last Tuesday’s runoff elections beat the record of the lowest turnout ever in North Carolina. Turnout for the runoff 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. It’s time to follow the suggestion of Senators John McCain and Barack Obama and adopt instant runoff voting in North Carolina.”

With instant runoff voting, 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.

Instant runoff voting (IRV) is not new to North Carolina. Last year it was used to replace two rounds of voting for Cary (NC) and Hendersonville (NC) municipal elections. Dr. Michael Cobb, NC State University political science professor, reports that voters in both cities strongly preferred their new voting method to runoff elections.

Disappointed by the voter turnout, the runoff winner Mary Donnan wants to open a discussion on IRV as a solution to boost voter turnout for statewide elections. Sen. Barack Obama was the prime sponsor of Illinois legislation in 2002 to establish IRV for primaries, while Sen. John McCain that year recorded a phone announcement to support IRV in Alaska.

Instant runoff voting’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.



Runoff   Winner Percent Decline in Turnout 
 Commission of Labor - DEM
 Mary Fant Donnan
 State Senate District 05 - DEM
 Don Davis
 State House District 67 - REP
 Justin P. Burr

*Data for runoffs is preliminary, but reflects 100% of precincts reporting.