01/24/09 — Commissioners' group seeks end to second primaries

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Commissioners' group seeks end to second primaries

By Steve Herring
Published in News on January 24, 2009 11:46 PM

If the state's county commissioners have their way, the money their counties have to spend for what is traditionally a handful of voters to cast ballots in second primaries would become a thing of the past.

For example, a June runoff election in Wayne County for two offices cost $36,025 -- and attracted about 10 percent of the eligible voters.

The N.C. Association of County Commissioners, meeting in Raleigh last week for its legislative goals conference, approved a resolution seeking legislation to eliminate second primary elections.

As originally proposed, the goal sought legislation to reduce the administrative costs of secondary elections, possibly by using instant runoff ballots.

But even that was too much for the majority of the commissioners who overwhelmingly approved an amended resolution seeking the complete elimination of second primaries.

They did not offer up any further discussions or solutions as to how close votes should be handled.

Wayne Commission Chair-man Bud Gray, who had been called from the room before the vote was taken, said he had not formed an opinion "either way" on the issue.

During the session, commissioners decried costs associated with second primaries that traditionally attract very few voters.

The June runoff was between Don Davis and Kathy Taft for the Democratic nomination for the state District 5 Senate seat. Only 3,115 voters, about 10 percent, of the 31,603 people eligible to vote did so. Davis went on to win the seat.

The second was a statewide race between Mary Donnan and John C. Brooks for the office of commissioner of labor. Only 7 percent, or 2,997 of the 42,705 eligible voters, cast ballots. Brooks won the seat.

An August 2004 second statewide primary in which 4,020, or 10 percent of the 41,394 eligible voters cast ballots, cost the county $28,150.

"That comes out of our budget," said Wayne County Board of Elections Director Vickie Reed.

Candidates must garner at least 40 percent of the primary vote to avoid a second primary.

Ms. Reed said the instant runoff ballots she has seen probably do look complicated to the average person.

"The thing I worry about is the complexity for the average voter," she said. "In an instant runoff, voters mark their first, second and third choice. If no one gets 40 percent, they look at the second and third choices."

Todd McGee, communications director for the association, said the resolution did not address recounts. Currently, candidates within one percent of another candidate can request a recount.

Wayne GOP Chairman Mark Corbett said he supports "anything" to reduce the cost of government.

"From the standpoint of reducing cost, we certainly need to do that," he said.

However, he expressed reservations about "blanket resolutions" without other solutions being offered.

Corbett said he thinks commissioners at the conferences "do a lot of stuff and get caught up in what the group wants to do and not individual counties."

"After the last eight years, people may not be ready to give up any more liberties and that is one that they might not mind spending money on," said Wayne County Demo-cratic Party Chairman Bronnie Quinn.

Quinn said he was somewhat surprised that the issue had been brought up.

"I have not heard any comments out of the state party, and I would like to see how they feel about it," he said.