With early voting underway, voters across the state are seeing a ballot unlike any they’ve seen before.
Every ballot in the state features a section of instant runoff voting, which is meant to eliminate the need for a second runoff election.
But it could also be confusing for voters.
While selecting a judge for the N.C. Court of Appeals, voters will select their first, second and third choices for election. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the first-place votes, the second- and third-choice votes are counted for each of the top two candidates in the final vote tally.
“If we had a second primary many voters would choose not to participate,” said Johnnie McLean, deputy director of administration for the N.C. Board of Elections.
This is because turnout for standard runoff elections has historically been very low, said Rob Richie, the executive director of Fair Vote, a Maryland-based elections reform think tank.
Thirteen judges will be listed on the ballot to compete for the spot vacated by Judge James Wynn, Jr. in August. Due to the fact that Wynn left so close to the general election, a recently passed state law requires his replacement be chosen via instant runoff voting.
Although instant runoffs save money by requiring only one election, many critics say they complicate the ballot and confuse voters.
To help remedy the situation, the state board printed instant runoff voting guides. Many county boards of elections, including Orange County, have guides at the polls.
“For every voter that comes in to vote, we’re going to be giving you an additional instruction sheet when you come into the polling place,” said Tracy Reams, director of the Orange County Board of Elections.
Early voters at the Morehead Planetarium, such as sophomore Zealan Hoover, found the guides helpful in overcoming confusion.
“I think they did a good job of explaining it,” he said. “It made sense to me, but I also just took a course on elections.”
But even the most educated voters could struggle, said Sara Biggers, a poll volunteer for Orange County Democratic party.
“I have a masters in law and I still can’t get it.”
Joyce McCloy, director of the N.C. Coalition for Verified Voting, argues the section is undemocratic.
“It sounds like a good idea at first glance, but it violates a core principal of democracy, which is to keep it simple,” McCloy said.
She said voters who don’t choose either of the top two vote-getting candidates end up throwing runoff votes away to candidates who didn’t get enough votes to make it to the runoff.
Others worry that higher numbers of voters will not complete all of the ballot, said Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy NC, a non-partisan political think tank.
“With 13 people running, the drop-off’s going to be huge — it could be as much as half the people voting,” Hall said.
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