Turnout: How Low Can You Go?


[Image courtesy of wonkette]

We’ve covered the various ways to calculate voter turnout on this blog, but by any method you have to admit that turnout in Tuesday’s runoff in North Carolina was low – and in some places nonexistent. From WRAL.com:

Despite including five statewide races and three congressional races – elections officials said it was the longest runoff ballot in modern North Carolina history – only about 221,000 people went to the polls statewide, which is less than 3.6 percent of the state’s registered voters. The lowest turnout ever for a North Carolina election was 2.5 percent.

“It was painful,” Gary Bartlett, executive director of the State Board of Elections, said Wednesday.

At four polling places in the state – one each in Guilford, Currituck and Tyrell counties and at Washington GT Magnet Elementary School near downtown Raleigh – no one even showed up to cast a ballot. [emphasis added]

Obviously, such low turnout isn’t good; any election where just a tiny fraction of voters (who are themselves an – albeit bigger – fraction of eligible citizens) participate means that a very small majority can make very big decisions.

Even worse, though, is that the state just spent significant funds to run the election – money that’s in very short supply:

The state and counties spent $7.5 million on the runoff to rent polling locations, hire and train workers – not all are volunteers – print ballots and other materials and maintain vote-counting machines.

Bartlett noted that the expense couldn’t have come at a worse time. Most counties already have less election money than usual because of budget cuts, and they need what money they have for the November election.

Keep in mind, also, that the state (citing budget limits) recently failed to fund a $664,000 appropriation that would have freed up about $4 million in federal funding for election administration.

Quite simply, it isn’t good for election officials and the people they serve to be running elections where virtually no one shows up to vote. There are a number of potential alternatives – the article mentions instant runoff voting, while other states have done away with runoffs altogether – but each of these will require action by legislators, not election officials.

Whatever the response, it seems to me that voters are telling us something when they stay away from the polls in these kinds of numbers. Hopefully, someone’s listening.

2 Comments on "Turnout: How Low Can You Go?"

  1. “The tyranny of a prince in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy.”
    -Charles de Montesquieu

  2. Only eight states still have partisan primary runoff elections (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas). North Carolina should imitate its neighbors Virginia and Tennessee and repeal them.

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