Runoff a costly way to resolve House race

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The results of the May 6 primary in the N.C. House District 23 race offer a textbook example of why North Carolina provides for runoff elections. Let’s just hope the voters in two counties understand that and turn out to the polls again for a second primary.

After the votes were counted and canvassed, Shelly Willingham led a field of four candidates with 2,978 votes – 35.6 percent of the ballots cast in District 23, which includes Edgecombe and Martin counties. North Carolina law says the leading vote-getter must receive at least 40 percent of the total in order to avoid the possibility of a runoff. Willingham didn’t meet that threshold, and as Telegram staff writer Darla Slipke reports today, R.B. “Rusty” Holderness has decided to request a runoff. Holderness finished with 2,543 votes.

The decision by Holderness to seek a second primary is certainly reasonable, especially given the numbers cited above. But it is like to be a costly endeavor for what probably will be a handful of voters who will decide who their next representative will be.

The winner will succeed longtime N.C. Rep. Joe Tolson, who announced he would retire at the end of this term. There are no Republicans seeking the District 23 seat.

Off-year elections – those in which there is no presidential race to decide – traditionally draw fewer voters to the polls. That was painfully obvious last week when Edgecombe County turned out about 19 percent of its registered voters, and Martin County turned out about 16 percent of its registered voters.

If those turnout levels sound low, don’t judge too quickly. Both counties actually surpassed the statewide turnout rate, which was 15.5 percent for last week’s primary.

There are no easy alternatives to a second primary.

Some people have suggested a preference ballot in which voters would use Election Day to mark their first, second, third, etc., choices accordingly. Critics of that plan say it would cause too much voter confusion.

Regardless, the polls will open for a special runoff. Let’s hope the good people of Edgecombe and Martin counties find voting again worth the extra effort.