The most expensive election ever

Published May 2, 2024

By Tom Campbell

If you were disappointed in the voter turnout in the March 5th primary election, wait until the May 14th runoff. The nonpartisan organization FairVote says turnouts in second primaries are 40 percent or less of the original primary vote. If so, 10 percent or fewer of our registered voters would cast ballots. Senator Ralph Hise recently estimated it could be no more than 2 percent of our 7.4 million - 148,000 voters.
The May vote will be the most expensive election ever held in our state. Trying to find out the exact amount it costs to conduct a statewide election in North Carolina is as difficult as trying to find the formula for Coca Cola. But it has been suggested the cost is over $4 million. We could potentially spend $200 per vote cast.
There is a better way, and it is time North Carolina considered it. It is called ranked choice or instant runoff voting.
Here’s how Time magazine explained ranked choice voting. “Instead of just choosing who you want to win, you fill out the ballot saying who is your first choice, second choice, or third choice (or more as needed) for each position. The candidate with the majority (more than 50%) of first-choice votes wins outright. If no candidate gets a majority of first-choice votes, then it triggers a new counting process. The candidate who did the worst is eliminated, and that candidate’s voters’ ballots are redistributed to their second-choice pick. In other words, if you ranked a losing candidate as your first choice, and the candidate is eliminated, then your vote still counts: it just moves to your second-choice candidate. That process continues until there is a candidate who has the majority of votes.”
States using this process seem to like it. The big downside is that ranked choice would require some explaining and help to voters. Further, it could lengthen North Carolina’s already lengthy ballot.
Our recent primary demonstrated the need for shrinking the length. Analysis indicated that only 20 percent actually voted all the way down our ballot.
There are several ways we could shorten the ballot and improve turnout. First, let’s move the primary election date back to the traditional first Tuesday in May. Voters are clearly not interested in elections in March. Next, the absentee ballot law needs to be restored so that an absentee ballot would be counted if received within three days of the election. The requirement that absentee ballots be received by election day is punitive, given current postal system problems. More than 1,000 voters missed that deadline in March. A thousand votes could have changed the outcomes of some elections.
There are other ways for shortening. One no-brainer is for the Governor and Lieutenant Governor to run as a team, like the President and Vice President. Another idea we’ve debated for years is to eliminate the election of judges, especially appellate judges. Voters often resort to “eeny, meeny, miny, moe” in picking judges for whom to vote. And the requirement of party identification beside a candidate’s name still doesn’t help assure quality jurists. Our courts are already too politicized. We don’t need further divisive partisanship. There are better ways to select judges and North Carolina needs to study and implement them.
Let’s also reduce the number of statewide elected offices for which we vote. Five offices need to be elected in order to ensure officeholder independence. They include the governor-lieutenant governor, Secretary of State, Treasurer, Auditor and Attorney General. That said, we don’t need to elect the Commissioners of Labor, Insurance, Agriculture or the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Eliminating the Superintendent’s election would streamline education governance and efficiency.
These changes would shorten the ballot, however they would require changing our constitution. We believe a good case can be made for making the changes.
I hope we can all agree we need more people voting, not fewer. And elections need to be conducted as cost efficiently as possible. 
Tom Campbell is a Hall of Fame North Carolina broadcaster and columnist who has covered North Carolina public policy issues since 1965.  Contact him at