Bill seeks to revamp runoffs: Luebke to propose instant voting law
The Daily Tar Heel  by Alexandra Dodson  September 9, 2004

A bill designed by a state legislator might simplify the process and cut the cost of state primary elections and their subsequent runoffs.

Rep. Paul Luebke, D-Durham, plans to introduce legislation next year that would give voters the option of ranking their choices when they vote in primaries with more than two candidates.

Voters would cast a vote for their preferred candidate but also would cast a conditional vote by ranking the remaining candidates in order of preference.

If no candidate finishes with 40 percent of the vote, vote counters will look at the second choices on all ballots and add them to the original tallies.

This process will continue as needed with third and fourth choice selections until a candidate is selected with 40 percent of the vote.

The system would eliminate the need for separate runoff elections.

Luebke said he plans to introduce the bill when the N.C. General Assembly reconvenes in January.

"It's called instant runoff," Luebke said. "You do all your voting the same day."

The plan will apply in any primary in which there are more than two candidates, he said.

But voters will have the option of voting for only one candidate. In this case, the voter would not cast a second-choice vote in a runoff.

Luebke said benefits of his plan include cutting costs to the state, which average $3 million per election. The plan also would ensure that the same people vote in both the primary and the runoff.

Because runoffs typically are held weeks after the initial primary, Luebke said, turnout tends to be lower.

He cited last month's Democratic runoff for state superintendent, where only one-seventh of the number of voters in the July primary returned in August to nominate June Atkinson.

Gary Bartlett, executive director of the N.C. State Board of Elections, said low turnout for runoffs is common.

"I would say that for the first primary, (turnout) was exactly what we thought it would be," he said, pointing out that 15.5 percent of registered voters came out in July.

Bartlett said turnout during the runoff election was low for the Democrats, although turnout among Republicans voting for congressional candidates was better.

Instant runoff plans like Luebke's have been instituted in about 30 jurisdictions in the United States, he said, most notably in San Francisco.

When instituting a voting process like instant runoff voting, Bartlett said, there are three main things that should be considered.

First, he said, parties and their candidates must be comfortable and educated about the system.

"Any time you have any type of change, they have to have a comfort level," he said.

Next, voters must be familiar with the way the process works so they cast their ballots correctly.

Finally, Bartlett said, voting officials must work with the new system to ensure that precincts have the right equipment and that ballots will be counted correctly.

But no matter what the process is, Luebke said, he thinks it is important that the winning candidate always receives at least 40 percent of the vote in the primaries.

"(This percentage) demonstrates that the person has substantial support in his or her party."

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