By Adam Arnold
Published September 18th 2007 in Cary News
Cary is one of two municipalities in the state that will use “instant-runoff voting.”
The N.C. General Assembly approved the approach as a pilot program last year for up to 10 cities in 2007 and 10 counties in 2008. The Town Council agreed in May for Cary to be one of the cities to try the program. Hendersonville will also participate.
Elections officials and leaders of several election-reform organizations call the instant runoff a way to give choices back to voters, save counties and municipalities money and take some money out of politics.
“In … runoff elections the turnout is abysmal,” said Diane Haskell, president of the League of Women Voters of Wake County. “This gives everyone a chance to say” who their choice is.
Runoffs are used in jurisdictions where a majority of the votes cast in a race are necessary for election and no candidate receives a majority in the initial tally. In an election using an instant runoff, voters not only mark their ballots for their first choice for an office but may mark their second and third choices as well. In a three-person race, for instance, if the voter’s first choice is not among the top vote getters, then the remaining candidate who is marked higher on that ballot would receive the vote.
Three Cary Town Council races have the potential for the instant runoff to be used. There are three candidates for the District B and D and at-large seats. A fourth at-large candidate, Susan Lawson, announced her withdrawal but will remain on the ballot.
“The Board of Elections was unanimous in wanting to pilot this in Wake County,” said John Gilbert, chair of the Wake County Board of Elections. “It’s closer to the ideal of governing by the governed.”
Gilbert said the instant runoff would save the county about $62,000 as polling places, and workers to staff them, will not be needed in Cary in November.
Haskell said the instant runoff is also an advantage to the candidates, who will not “have to go out and raise money for that final push” of a traditional runoff.
Voters should expect plenty of information about how the process works.
Cherie Poucher, director of the Wake County Board of Elections, said a mailing explaining instant-runoff voting will go to all Cary voters this week.
Brochures and posters will also be going up around the town, she said.
The board has also created a Web site, CaryVotes123.com, to get the word out.
Gilbert said there will also be explanatory material at polling places and that precinct officials will be able to help. Susan Moran, Cary’s public information officer, said the town is using a variety of approaches to let voters know about the new method for runoffs. “We were directed by council to use all available resources to ensure that citizens were prepared for this change in voting and that’s what we’ve done,” Moran said.
Tactics have included:
• running an article about instant-runoff voting in its September BUD newsletter that is included in all utility bills.
• running a blurb on its government-access television channel.
• forwarding all Board of Elections press releases about instant-runoff voting to the town’s electronic press release recipients.
• broadcasting a story on the September edition of BUD TV, also on the access channel.
• helping fund the Cary Chamber of Commerce voter guide, which has an explanation in it about the process.
• providing space to the Board of Elections at Lazy Daze last month.
• providing information during each segment of Cary’s candidate forum taped Sept. 12.
These avenues, Moran said, have “the potential to reach everyone in Cary and more.”
Meanwhile, Gilbert and Bob Hall, director of Democracy North Carolina, talk about instant runoff with as many civic groups as they can.
Gilbert said that it has worked well in a variety of venues across the country and that data from locales such as San Francisco and Takoma Park, Md., back up that conclusion.
Nevertheless, Gilbert conceded that it is “human nature” for people to “resist change.”
But Gilbert still thinks the new approach will catch on.
“I think people will like it,” he said. “And if they don’t, I’m sure the Legislature will draw the proper conclusion.”