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Instant runoff not so quick

By Geoffrey Cooper

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The Nash County Board of Elections will examine instant runoff voting results for the fifth and final seat on the N.C. Court of Appeals.

The county’s elections board and staff will meet at 10 a.m. Monday inside the auditorium of the Nash County Agriculture Center to count tallies for Court of Appeals Judge candidates Cressie Thigpen and Doug McCullough. They are the two leading vote-getters in this year’s judicial race, which had 11 other candidates.

County elections board officials said the state’s initial idea of the instant runoff voting method was to avoid having a separate runoff election.

Instant runoff voting instructs voters to choose their top three choices in select judicial races on Election Day. The first-place votes are counted, with the second and third choices used as backup options, just in case no candidate garners more than 50 percent of the vote total. All 13 candidates in the selected N.C. Court of Appeals contest failed to receive more than 50 percent of the first place votes.

Elections board offices statewide are having to count the second and third voting choices in the runoff to determine a winner.

Thigpen was appointed by Gov. Bev Perdue to fill the seat of longtime N.C. Court of Appeals Judge James Wynn Jr. after Wynn was appointed and confirmed as a judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Wynn’s appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals prompted a special election for his seat.

Under state law, because the vacancy occurred after the state’s primary elections, the election employed instant runoff voting. North Carolina was the first to use the method during a statewide election. Thigpen was appointed to Wynn’s seat and filed to run for the eight-year term.

Thigpen and McCullough collected the most first-choice votes statewide, but no candidate received more than 50 percent of the total votes. Official results from the N.C. State Board of Elections show that more than 1.9 million votes were cast statewide in the N.C. Court of Appeals race.

Thigpen garnered 20.3 percent of votes cast, or 395,220 votes, while McCullough captured 15.2 percent, or 295,619 votes.

Close to 25,000 ballots were cast in Nash County for the instant runoff voting race. Thigpen was the top candidate in the contest, receiving 7,789 votes, or 31.24 percent of the votes.