Local Politics

Get ready to cast runner-up votes on November ballot

Posted September 17, 2010 5:24 p.m. EDT
Updated September 17, 2010 6:42 p.m. EDT

— North Carolina will make election history in November when it becomes the first state in more than 70 years to attempt instant-runoff voting on a statewide basis.

In an instant runoff, voters not only pick a candidate for a particular office, they also select their second and third choices for the office. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the votes cast, the second- and third-place votes for the top two voter-getters are tallied to produce a winner.

The system is designed to prevent costly runoff elections by giving voters more choices.

"This is something that is new for everyone," said Gary Bartlett, executive director of the State Board of Elections.

Several communities across the country, including Cary, have tried instant-runoff voting, as have nations like Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom. There's been no statewide attempt at instant runoffs in the U.S. since the 1930s.

Making the system work will require voter education and planning, Bartlett said.

"For the voter, it is instant. They go and they vote. As far as for the election officials, it's not instant," he said.

Because there is no election software that immediately tabulates runoff tallies, some combination of machine and manual counting will be needed, he said.

Bartlett said it could take at least two weeks for a final tally. Critics said they think it could take even longer.

"Hope it doesn't lead to a meltdown, but it looks like it's going to," said Chris Telesca, a Raleigh resident who hosts a blog called "No IRV in NC."

Telesca predicted a host of problems, from verifying vote counts to confused voters.

"I don't think we could possibly do enough voter education for people to understand what's going on," he said.

Still, Damon Circosta, executive director of the North Carolina Center for Voter Education, said getting voters used to instant runoffs would boost participation in elections.

"You're going to see more participation in this instant-runoff voting than if we were to hold some sort of second primary in December. Nobody would show up," Circosta said.