Thursday, July 10, 2014 —
RALEIGH – Early voting is underway around North Carolina.
Yes, that’s right, there’s an election on Tuesday to be exact. You might not have heard much about it, but it’s a second primary, or runoff election, following the May 6 primary.
North Carolina is one of only a handful of states, mostly Southern, that have runoff elections if no candidate meets a certain threshold in the primary. In our state, the winning candidate must receive at least 40 percent of the primary vote in order to advance directly to the November general election. Anything less than that and the second place finisher can request a second primary.
Many, but not all, North Carolinians will be eligible to vote in the runoff election, but the overwhelming majority unfortunately will choose not to participate, if history is our guide.
Primaries already feature poor voter turnout, but voter participation in runoff elections can drop to nearly zero. For the May primary this year, voter turnout was just under 16 percent. Pretty abysmal. But if you look at second primary elections in previous years, it’s even worse. In 2012, for example, turnout in the July runoff couldn’t even crack 5 percent.
Unlike in years past, there are no statewide races headed to runoff elections in 2014. The May primary featured a crowded, competitive race for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination, but N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis was able to avoid a runoff by securing more than 45 percent of the vote on Election Day. That means turnout could potentially be even weaker in this year’s primary runoffs.
Thirty-seven of North Carolina’s 100 counties will have second primaries on Tuesday. Voters in some counties will select nominees for congressional races, while other counties will only vote for local races like board of commissioners, sheriff or district attorney.
Not everyone in those 37 counties will be eligible to vote in the July runoff either. Voters registered as Democrats or Republicans can vote regardless of whether or not they participated in the May primary, but they can only vote a ballot for the party with which they are registered.
Unaffiliated voters that voted in the May primary can only vote in the runoff for the same party they chose in May. Those unaffiliated voters that did not vote in May are still eligible to vote in July, and they may choose to cast a ballot in either party’s runoff.
Information on many of the runoff candidates can be found at NCVoter Guide.org.
It may be difficult for some voters to pay attention to politics and elections in July when they’re likely more concerned about the beach and barbecue, but every election is important and your vote always matters.
Let’s all work to turn the trend around in 2014 and show up at the polls on Tuesday.
Brent Laurenz is executive director of the N.C. Center for Voter Education and a contributor to TheVoterUp date.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.