Instant runoff voting could be antidote to historically low turnout.
Published October 22nd 2007 in The Fayetteville Observer
Voter turnout for primary elections in North Carolina rarely cracks 30 percent. And when those primaries require a runoff, turnout shrinks to a subset of the already small pool.

But no matter how few voters are expected to cast ballots, counties must open up polling places and roll out voting equipment, which costs millions of dollars statewide.

There is a better solution: instant runoff voting. The alternative voting method, which is being used already in many countries and across a handful of states, promises a long list of benefits, the most important being that it saves money.

Earlier this month the town of Cary completed the stateís first experiment with instant runoff balloting and saved about $60,000 in the process.

The General Assembly agreed last year to give up to 10 towns and cities the chance to try instant runoff voting in one election. Only two municipalities agreed to try it, Cary and Hendersonville, which will use the new system next month. Ten counties will have the same opportunity next year.

The Cumberland County Board of elections should sign up. None of the municipal races in Cumberland County require runoffs but county and statewide races do. During primary races for county and statewide offices, candidates must get at least 40 percent of votes to win without a second primary, or runoff.

Instant runoff voting eliminates the need for second primaries because voters rank their first, second and third choice candidates. If none of the candidates get 40 percent of the vote, the top two finishers advance to an instant runoff. Election officials tabulate the second and third choices of people who voted for the third-place finisher and distribute the votes to the top two candidates to determine the winner.

Caryís foray into the alternative voting method wasnít exactly as simple as 1-2-3. Wake County had to hand-count the runoff votes because they didnít purchase software to do it on the computer. Still, Wake County voters are saying that they prefer the new system. About 72 percent of those who voted say they favored instant-runoff voting. And voter participation in Cary was higher than in Wake County overall at about 19 percent.

Voters like instant runoff voting because the benefits extend beyond cost-cutting. Instant runoffs decrease negative campaigning. Candidates tend to run more positive campaigns because they want those second choices votes. And people who support long-shot candidates know that their vote will still have an impact on the outcome. campaigning, too.

At a time when too many people feel disenchanted with the electoral process, this is an idea worth exploring.