The ProblemNorth Carolina uses party primary elections in which the second place finisher may request a runoff election, in the event that no candidate receives at least 40% of the vote. In 2004, the primary occurred on July 20th, with the runoff on August 17th.
To vote in the second primary, voters must have registered in time to vote in the July 20th primary. Republicans and Democrats can vote in their parties' respective runoffs, even if they did not vote in the first primary. Nonpartisan voters who did not vote in the first primary could vote in either party's August 17th runoff, provide they did not vote in either the Republican or Democratic primary on July 20th. If they had voted on July 20th, they could only vote in the same party's runoff in August.
In the July 20th Republican Primary for the 10th Congressional District, no candidate received the 40% minimum to avoid a runoff. The advancing candidates were David Huffman with 35% and Patrick McHenry with 26%. They left behind Sandy Lyons at 20% and George A. Moretz at 19%. The 39% of votes garnered by Lyons and Moretz was enough to adequately give either Huffman or McHenry a majority winólet alone 40%.
An even more flagrant breach of the votersí will occurred in the fifth Congressional District, where Vernon L. Robinson and Virginia Foxx beat out a wide field to advance to the runoff after receiving 24% and 22% of the vote, respectively. Ed Broyhill, who was edged out of the runoff by 511 votes, could have made up the difference with the 13,076 votes cast for the other disqualified candidates. Instead, Foxx and Robinson proceeded to the GOP runoff with a combined 46% of primary votes.
The GOP primary for Guilford County Commissioners' District 4 fueled negative and misleading campaigning after Eddie Souther and Carl Allen advanced past Marcus Kindley to the runoff. News & Record reported on August 17th, A Souther direct-mail flier that arrived over the weekend tells voters Allen is trying to steal the election and the district's second primary will cost taxpayers $15,000. Even though the law does not require a runoff my opponent has requested it despite the high cost, the flier reads. What Souther's flier did not mention is that the Superintendent of Public Instruction race had already triggered a scheduled election for August 17th. After the Republican Rowan County commissioner vote, David Aycoth requested an Aug. 17 runoff between him and Jim Sides only if there's a statewide runoff in the Democratic race for superintendent of public instruction. His reason: he didn't want the county to pay for an election that wasn't already be scheduled.
These two local races demonstrate how candidates suppress positive discourse and voters' choices due to the runoff. The most high profile instance in 2004 was the race for Governor. Richard Vinroot could have challenged David Ballantine to a Republican runoff election for Governor after coming in second place by only 1,509 votes. However, Vinroot did not request a runoff, and Ballantine rolled on to the general election after being nominated with 30% of the vote.
Vinroot said it was in the best interest of the party to concede defeat and give Ballantine an extra month to work on his campaign to unseat incumbent Gov. Mike Easley in the November general election, reported news channel WRAL. Thus, North Carolinaís only statewide race to see a runoff was the Democratic Partyís primary for Superintendent of Public Instruction. Marshall Stewart and June S. Atkinson participated in the August 17th runoff, which Atkinson won. Only one-fifth of the number of voters in the July primary returned to vote for the same race in August. Yet, it demonstrates the necessity of a second round of counting because under a plurality system, Stewart would have won with 35% of the vote. Without the third candidate, J. B. Buxton, on the ballot, Atkinson cleared the primary with 55%. However, this runoff came at a statewide cost of $3 million for an election that only drew 3% of the electorate.
In addition to the races profiled, two State Senate and three State House primaries went to runoffs. Five Judicial primaries saw victors receiving less than 40% of the vote. These problems are not new to North Carolinaís electoral scene. In 2000, Steve Troxler and Tom Davidson, who received 27% and 24%, respectively, advanced to a runoff in the Commissioner of Agriculture Republican primary. That same year, both the Republican and Democratic Commissioner of Labor primaries went to runoff. In 2002, candidates did not meet the 40% threshold in 15 primary races, including the thirteenth Congressional District Republican election.
The 40% threshold is also inclined to advance candidates without a runoff, even if they do not surpass the traditional 50% mark for runoffs. In 2004, three State Senate races (districts 4, 16, and 21), three State House races (districts 3, 48, 88), and six District Court Judge races (districts 9, 10-Bailey, 10-Lawton, 11, 15A, 30) nominated candidates who did not attain a majority and yet did not face a runoff.
In the Republican primary for US Congress District 4, the winner received his nomination with 45%. The Republican Party's Attorney General race saw a 41/38/21 percent split. The winner narrowly achieved the 40% threshold, but fell far from a majority. The third place finisher's 21% of the vote could have easily made up the three point difference between the top two.
In addition to violating commonly accepted principles of majority rule, the North Carolina runoffs traditionally produce dismal turnout. The fifth and tenth Congressional District runoffs saw turnout decreases from the first primary of 28% and 27%, respectively. For the only 2004 statewide office on the runoff ballot Superintendent of Public Education the turnout decrease was 79%; only 21% of July 20th voters showed up to the polls on August 17th. The media has responded to the turnout problem. The Charlotte Observer wrote on August 20th, 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?
Poll workers at one Graham County precinct recorded no votes in Tuesday's runoff election and spent their time chatting and working crossword puzzles reported WFMY News 2. Only 51 Graham County residents, 12 of them poll workers, voted in the runoff in the Democratic primary for state superintendent of public instruction, leaving the county with an election bill of $6,300, a cost of $123.53 per voter.