Local Race To Use Instant Runoff Voting Method


CHARLOTTE, N.C.,None - One of the races for North Carolina Court of Appeals Judge is making national history as the first statewide race in the country to use instant runoff voting, or IRV, to choose a winner.

When voters head to the polls on Tuesday, instead of choosing one candidate, they will rank them in order of preference. If no one wins more than half of the first-place votes, a winner will be selected by counting second- and third-place votes.

"You're having the runoff at the same time as the election," said Michael Dickerson, director of Mecklenburg County's Board of Elections.

IRV has been used in a number of local races across the country since 2004, including Cary and Hendersonville. Dickerson said this method can save people time and money by avoiding a possible separate runoff election in the following weeks.

"An election for us usually runs about $350,000 to $400,000, just for this county alone," he said, adding that voter turnout in runoff elections are often a fraction of what it was on Election Day. "The idea is that you've got the voter there, let them go ahead and vote for who they would vote for if their first choice didn't win. Let's go ahead and capture that vote now so the voter wouldn't have to come back (in a run-off election)."

The ballot for the race consists of three columns, each containing the full list of 13 candidates for Court of Appeals Judge. Instructions clearly indicate voters must choose one candidate in the first column -- called the 1st Choice -- then choose a different person in the second column and someone else in the third column, called the 2nd Choice and 3rd Choice, respectively. The instructions also clearly say that the second and third preferences would "only be considered if a runoff is needed, and do not count against your 1st Choice."

But some voters who saw the runoff style voting for the first time on a sample ballot Monday said they were a little perplexed.

"Well, I see the same names (repeated)," said Lisa Brailsford, who quickly realized she could choose candidates in order of preference. After reading over the instructions, she said the multiple choice made her "kind of feel like I'm in high school."

Tyrone Leverette said it would be helpful for people to learn the rules before entering the voting booth.

"It really would be kind of confusing and time-consuming," he said.

That's exactly why state Sen. Bob Rucho, R-District 39, said lawmakers need to look at other ways of improving voting.

"You want the election laws to be clear and simple," he said.

Rucho was not in office when state leaders approved runoff voting as a pilot program in 2006.

Under state law, vacancies on the Superior Court, Court of Appeals and Supreme Court which occur after the primary but more than 60 days before Election Day can be filled by IRV. In August, the resignation of Judge James Wynn, Jr. from the NC Court of Appeals to accept a position on the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals happened during the timeframe to allow IRV. The other three Court of Appeals Judge positions on the ballot will not use IRV.

Rucho, however, suggested that an improved primary system would eliminate the need for IRV by making the fields smaller in non-partisan races, such as those for judge and local school boards. The Court of Appeals Judge race features 13 candidates.

"It's our responsibility to make sure, as legislators, that the ballot remains simple and easy for the voter to better comprehend," Rucho said, adding that many voters have complained to him about the complexity of IRV.

But supporters of runoff voting, including the group FairVote Action and its website said IRV replaces the need for primaries and subsequent elections with just one vote.

Lawmakers do plan to look at how efficiently and how smoothly the instant run-off voting goes this year, but there are no plans as of yet to allow IRV in any other races across the state.