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Monday, May 24, 2010

Charlotte Observer Tries To Sway N.C. Elections, Again (Cunningham vs Marshall Run-Off)

Charlotte Observer Tries To Sway N.C. Citizens From Voting During The Cunningham-Marshall Run-Off Election On June 22

On June 22, a runoff election between Democrats Cal Cunningham and rival Elaine Marshall for a spot on the November ballot for U.S. senator - and three congressional run-offs plus one state Senate runoff - will cost the state an estimated $5 million.

The cost to Charlotte-Mecklenburg County's taxpayers will be $350,000. Maybe, finally, the horrendous budget crunch facing the state and the counties will bring a long-needed end to the state's archaic runoff election system.

It's a relic of the old one-party days, when the Democrats so dominated state politics that at least a run-off gave voters something akin to a two-person election.

Those days are long gone in North Carolina, swept out in the 1970s. At least the state in 1989 dropped the percentage of the votes a candidate needs to escape a runoff from 50 to 40 percent.

Even so, in the last statewide run-off, in 2008, fewer than 2 percent of voters showed up to choose between two Democratic candidates for state labor commissioner.

In Mecklenburg, turnout was .58 percent - for a cost to local taxpayers of $121 per vote. Statewide, elections officials estimated the 63,662 votes cost $55 each.

There must be a better way. Not only can better uses be found for that money, it's nuts to have such a minuscule proportion of the voters having such disproportionate sway.

One option might be to lower, again, the percentage of votes needed to avoid a run-off - perhaps to 35 percent? Another idea with merit is to use what's called "instant runoff voting." Voters choose a No. 1 and No. 2 choice.

If no candidate wins 40 percent, then the top two advance to the "instant run-off." Officials review ballots for candidates who didn't make the cut, and those voters' second choice votes are allocated.

Whoever ends up with the most votes wins. Instant run-offs are already used in England, Ireland, San Francisco and Minneapolis, among other places.

Some kinks would have to be worked out and questions answered. Software could be a problem in the approximately 20 N.C. counties, like Mecklenburg, that don't use optical scanners with paper ballots.

Would the need for new software cost counties more than the hundreds of thousands it costs for the runoff elections? Could voters figure out the more complicated system?

In 2006 the state authorized a couple of experiments in instant runoff voting in Hendersonville and Cary. The Henderson County elections director says it's worked well in mock elections but hasn't yet been used in a real one. Cary tried it in a 2007 election but hasn't tried it again, as it required both machine and hand-counting.

No balloting method is going to be perfect, of course. A winner-takes-all method might allow a fringe candidate who can scrape together a clump of voters to win out if a number of other, saner candidates split the rest of the vote. Instant runoffs raise questions of cost and confusion. But come June 22, N.C. voters who bother to go to the polls at all (and we predict few will) will be costing us all millions of dollars. We vote for a change.

Elaine Marshall Tries To Talk (Force) Cunningham Out Of Run-Off (Dirty Politics)

N.C. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall said Wednesday that she still hopes that her rival Cal Cunningham reconsiders his decision to call for a run-off in the Democratic Senate primary.

“I hope he will put the best interests of the party and the best interests of the people front and foremost rather than this his own personal ambitions,'' Marshall said in an interview at campaign headquarters in Raleigh.

Marshall said she thought there was some pressure on Cunningham to rethink his decision to call for a run-off which would be held on June 22nd, Rob Christensen reports.

"There are people in the state who have not been happy about Washington interference and the success I've had at the ballot box yesterday has only increased that," she said.

She was referring to Cunningham's support from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Marshall led the primary with 36 percent of the vote to Cunningham's 27 percent, short of the 40 percent needed to clinch the nomination.

Marshall suggested the run-off might get a little rougher.

"Once you get down to a two-person race it some times becomes a little more hard-edged," she said. "But we are going to be very positive. We are going to show distinctions. We are going to campaign for the best interests of North Carolina."

Marshall spent part of the day in her campaign headquarters, calling supporters and donors.

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Sources: Charlotte Observer, F.E.C., McClatchy Newspapers, N.C. General Assembly, WRAL, Google Maps

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