Instant Run-off Voting to be used statewide for first time in state history

Instant Run-off Voting to be used statewide for first time in state history

New Bern, NC – INTRO - North Carolina voters will take place in a statewide first when the early voting period gets underway Thursday. George Olsen has more.

State Court of Appeals Judge Jim Wynn was nominated by President Barack Obama to a seat on the U-S Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in November of 2009 and finally confirmed to the post one year later. That one year delay caused a problem.

"What the voters are seeing this year is in the context of a judicial vacancy in the Court of Appeals which occurred in mid-August which made it impossible to run a primary to reduce the number of people running to fill that vacancy down to two."

Don Wright, general counsel for the North Carolina State Board of Elections. The state Court of Appeals seat is voted on by the electorate and as the primary date had already passed by the time Judge Wynn was confirmed there was no opportunity for voters to winnow down those interested into the seat to two candidates to appear on the November general election ballot. So for the first time statute 163-329 comes into play instant run-off voting to determine a winner on the November ballot for the seat, the first time Instant Runoff Voting, or IRV, will be used on a statewide ballot in North Carolina and the first time this century in the United States.

"Early in the 20th century it was used in a couple of states in the mid-west but it has not been used in the U-S for a statewide election in close to a hundred years."

Instant run-off voting to some degree combines the primary and the General Election in one ballot. There are 13 candidates on the ballot to fill the seat vacated by Judge Jim Wynn. When voters go to their polling places, what they'll see is the candidates listed 3 times they're first choice for the position, their 2nd choice for the position, and their 3rd choice for the position. On Election night, those first choice ballots will be counted and if one candidate has 50% of the vote, we have a winner. With 13 candidates on the ballot however, most expect the first choice ballots won't present a clear winner. At that point, the top two finishers go into the instant run-off.

"After tabulating the first place votes, all the IRV ballots will then be reviewed and see in regard to additional votes for the top two finishers. So, they would take the rest of the ballot and see if there's a 2nd place vote for candidate A or candidate B. If there is, that ballot will be counted as an additional vote for that candidate. If there is not a 2nd place vote for A or B, they'll look to see if there's a 3rd place vote for A or B and that will be added. Once though the additional vote is added, say A gets a 2nd place ballot from John Smith, and Smith also placed a 3rd place vote for candidate B, the 3rd place vote makes no difference. You take the higher ranked vote so the fact he voted for candidate A 2nd choice, candidate A will get the additional vote and the 3rd place vote for candidate B will be ignored because that same voter placed candidate A as his 2nd place vote."

Voters don't have to indicate a 2nd or 3rd choice they can move on to the next race after indicating their first choice, they can do 1st and 2nd choice only, or all three that's up to the voter. A flaw of sorts with Instant Run-off voting is the anti-climatic nature of it. Those running for U-S Senate or the state Legislature or virtually every other race on the ballot can have champagne on standby Election Night in hopes of having reason to celebrate. Those taking part in the IRV voting for the state Court of Appeals seat not so much.

"Unless one of the 13 candidates gets 50% or more of the vote, there will not be an announced winner on election night, and it will be several days because counties that use electronic touch screens, there may be need to have some hand counting there. Counties that use the optical scan tabulator where a paper ballot is marked and the tabulator machine reads the ovals which are marked may have a little easier time counting votes. There is a difference in how the IRV will be tabulated based on the type of voting system used, but because of the need for the additional IRV counting, the winner of this particular race unless someone wins more than 50%... will not be known Election Night or probably the next night or the day after."

So two candidates will likely be left in a high state of anticipation for several days following the evening of November 2nd. On the bright side, they might be able to pick up champagne at fire sale prices from the long list of losing campaigns whose hopes will have been dashed Election Night. Don Wright is the general counsel for the North Carolina State Board of Elections. I'm George Olsen.