Do runoff elections reflect voters' will?The Charlotte Observer August 20, 2004
June Atkinson won the Democratic nomination for superintendent of public instruction, defeating Marshall Stewart. Both deserve voters' thanks for running positive, issues-oriented campaigns. They told voters where they stood and what they'd do. She won with 43,997 votes to his 35,709. She'll face Republican Bill Fletcher Nov. 2.
But send a dart to voters who stayed home, producing only about a 3 percent turnout. That's the big problem with primary and runoff elections in the summertime: Voters don't show up.
That horrid turnout produced a curious electoral result. Ms. Atkinson, the winner, got some 91,000 fewer votes this week than Mr. Stewart received in leading a three-person race in the July 20 primary. He got 135,348 votes that day, she won the runoff with 43,997. Wonder which election more closely reflects the will of the voters?
Here's one aspect of N.C. politics we could do without: negative campaigns. At least since the 1950 Senate Democratic primary between Willis Smith and Frank Porter Graham, this state has been noted for negative campaigns. U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms was a master of the tactic, and Gov. Jim Hunt launched his own nasty ad in their 1984 confrontation.
Politics has been smoother in the 20 years since, but nasty negativism resurfaced in this year's Republican congressional primaries in the 5th and 10th districts. None of the candidates in those races has clean hands, but it's worth noting that winner Virginia Foxx in the 5th ran a more positive campaign than her opponent. The outcome in the 10th is still not clear. We're hoping for better performances this fall.