RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina’s voter turnout for the primary runoff started slow and finished low.
About 3.6 percent of eligible voters cast ballots with all counties reporting Tuesday night.
State Board of Elections executive director Gary Bartlett said a strong surge in counties with U.S House races helped drive up turnout that early on looked to contend for the worst in the state’s primary runoff history.
“We started out with the slowest start in my history and I truly thought we would be lucky to reach 3 percent and we got 3.5,” Bartlett said.
The leading races Tuesday included five runoffs for Council of State positions, including the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor between Raleigh architect Dan Forest and Wake County Commissioner Tony Gurley. Three congressional districts were in GOP runoffs, two around Charlotte and a third in the mountains.
Only two states, Vance and Warren, topped 10 percent turnout of registered voters. One county, Robeson, turned out less than one percent of the vote — a meager 653 of the registered 70,656 voters took to the polls.
Bartlett was encouraged by the afternoon uptick, but stopped short of applauding overall turnout.
“It’s still sad we would have such a low turnout with that many offices on the ballot that people could participate,” Bartlett said.
Voters already picked their party favorites in the May 8 primary, but some first-place candidates failed to receive the more than 40 percent needed to win outright, requiring the top two vote-getters to advance to a runoff.
Election administrators anticipated the low statewide turnout for the primary runoff Tuesday, which came 10 weeks after the first primary. Voter interest was lukewarm save for a few hot spots where campaign placards and commercials have been plentiful.
Fewer than 37,000 people had turned in ballots statewide through the early voting period that ended over the weekend, or well below 1 percent of the state’s nearly 6.3 million voters, Bartlett said. That’s about the same number of early voters during 2010 primary runoffs, which had one statewide race.
“It surprised me tremendously,” said Bartlett, who was once hopeful the overall runoff turnout would exceed 8 percent. That’s the highest he’s seen for a runoff during his 20 years as director.
Early voting was stronger in Mecklenburg County, which anchors the 9th Congressional District and the district runoff race in which ex-state Sen. Robert Pittenger bested former Sheriff Jim Pendergraph. The other GOP runoff winners were Richard Hudson in the 8th District and Mark Meadows in the 11th District.
Democrats had one statewide Democratic runoff, the primary party for labor commissioner in which John Brooks beat Marlowe Foster.
Three additional GOP races for the Council of State went to John Tedesco for superintendent of public instruction; Mike Causey for insurance commissioner; and Ed Goodwin for secretary of state.
Seven General Assembly runoffs were decided. A couple of winners from legislative races would face no general election opposition.
Nearly all registered voters could cast ballots in the runoff, including those who didn’t vote in the May primary. Libertarians and unaffiliated voters who voted only in nonpartisan races in May could not vote.
The voters who turned out in Raleigh on election day said they did so out of principle — it wasn’t a particular candidate or issue that drove them to the polls.
“We always vote; We believe in it,” said Marillyn Mulholland who cast a Democratic ballot with her husband James.
Democrat Stan Vinston felt the low turnout made his trip to the ballot box more important.
“I thought about not coming, but my one vote might be the one needed,” he said.
The cost of the statewide runoff is between $6 million and $7 million from state and local sources, Bartlett said. The cost includes producing ballots, many which will never be used due to low turnout, and staffing voting precincts statewide.
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