An Expensive Democracy?

North Carolina law says that you win in a primary election if you take down more votes than your opponents, but you must have at least 40% in order to avoid a run-off between the top two finishers.  Last week the first place finisher in the Orange County Commissioner - District 2 race, Steve Yuhasz came up short of the 40% threshold, so runner-up Leo Allison requested to proceed with a run-off.

The News and Observer reports that Yuhasz feels 37% of the vote ought to be good enough to walk away with the nomination :

"I find it unfortunate that Mr. Allison has chosen to reject the clear result of the largest primary turnout in Orange County history," Steve Yuhasz wrote in a news release. Yuhasz also said the new election would be expensive for the county.

Meanwhile Yuhasz's opponent Allison responded:

"I understand Mr. Yuhasz wants to go ahead and have a free ride, but I don't think it's fair to the voters to have only 37 percent of them pick the candidate for this next seat," Allison said.

Full story in the N&O:

The rule about this is clear.  I have no opinion about who ought to win this race, but it seems to me that Mr. Allison not only is well within his rights, but also has a reasonable chance of winning.  So what's wrong with that?


I can't imagine going through all the work of campaigning and NOT asking for a recount if I was that close to winning. I think Steve Yuhasz could be a bit more gracious about it, there's no benefit to sniping.

I also agree that the dynamics in a runoff cold easily lead to a different result, so it's worth giving the voters their say.

If I recall you have to be within 1% for a recount unless you are willing to pay for it. Neither candidate was within the 1% window.

 With the election machines today there is very little if any error. I do recall a county school board recount a number of years ago when the older machines were in use and the results change by 1 vote out of the thousands of ballot casted and the machine we have today are better. The provisional ballots would be where questions could occur.


Leo allison has requested a run-off against Steve Yuhasz, not a recount. There's a big difference since there was only, as I recall, 9% difference in the percentage of votes obtained by each and in a run-off, either candidate might get some of the initial 35% of the voters that voted for neither the first time around. The accuracy of the vote has no significance here (assuming that there was no problem we are unaware of).

George C, I was replying to Ruby's comment on recounts and just providing some info for her and others about the rules and how accurate our machine are today. I remember the day not long ago in this County where we hand counted paper ballots, maybe you weren't old enough to vote then.

"maybe you weren't old enough to vote then"

That comment has a very unnecessarily insulting tone and is also highly uninformed.  Mr. Cianciolo is not some kid.  And even if he were, there would be no call for your remark.


I see what you were referring to: the issue of whether a recount would give Steve Yuhasz the necessary 40% to forgo the run-off. I agree with you that it is highly unlikely that a vote could change that much. And for the record, I'm not old enough to have ever voted with a hand-counted ballot in any of the areas I've lived.

Orange voted with hand counted paper ballots until around 1986, and was one of the last counties to abandon this.  There was actually a countywide referendum around 1984 to go to a different system and it was turned down, but a year or two later the county commissioners and board of elections voted to go to the current opti-scan anyways despite the Luddite rejection of automating the counts.

 I remember hand counting -- in 1972 I was a ballot counter for Country Club precint (which contained the current Country Club plus Mason Farm and greenwood which were created a few months later).  We finished the hand count around 4:30 am. It pushed McGovern over the top in Orange County. Those were the days.

I might be wrong, but I think it was a slightly bigger spread.  A recount takes about two hours in HIllsboro, every vote hand-counted by BOE officials in front of witnesses.  A run-off is far more burdensome on BOE officials and candidates alike.  Leo Allison bought the right to a run-off by paying the filing fee, but run-off is a costly proposition not worth pursuing in my opinion. 

We weill also vote June 24th for the Commissioner of Labor on the Dem. ballot.  As today's CHH pointed out,

Orange County could pay more than $75,000 for a pair of runoff elections to be held next month -- the fight for the District 2 seat on the county commissioners and the statewide commissioner of labor post.

Leo Allison, one of four candidates for the commissioners' District 2 seat, submitted his written request Monday for a runoff against leading vote-getter Steve Yuhasz.

The total cost for the Yuhasz-Allison runoff would have totaled nearly $25,000, but that was before news of the statewide race surfaced.

 According to the N&O today it is not clear who the second place person is because of the uncounted provisional ballots in a number of counties in the Labor Commissioner (democratic) race. There could likely be a recount in the labor race to determine who is second as well. In any event a deadline was facing the second place finisher and he filed the paperwork.

I have no problem with Mr. Allison calling for a runoff when there is no opponent in Nov. because my party is too weak to find someone to run. 

Well there's a reason why the 40% threshold exists and that's because of the confidence interval or whatever statisticians call it.  Below 40% it is statistically probable that a run off might change the outcome (someone who knows something about this please help explain) and it is important not only to the voters but to the person elected to know that (s)he has a true "mandate." 

So I think the money needed for a runoff is worth the investment long term.    

 Here's where we need instant run off.  How can we make that happen?

Ah, wish it were that either having second primaries or the 40% rule had anything to do with statistical probability. North Carolina had the 50% rule beginning with the Primary Act of 1915 which switched North Carolina from the convention or mass meeting system of party nomination.  All but one state with runoff primaries as of the early 1980s were old Confederate states (I think South Dakota also had them) and all indications were that they were there because they were one-party states and to suppress black voter influence.  The push to eliminate runoffs had been a cause of black political activists for several decades until a legislative compromise in 1988 changed it to 40%.

> The total cost for the Yuhasz-Allison runoff would have cost nearly $25,000 ...

So, a runoff in a reasonably close race for an important county seat costs a mere quarter of what the current commishes budgeted for propaganda to advocate for a miserably failed transfer tax that two thirds of the population rejected in what amounted to a Democratic primary. That's pretty cheap insurance to attempt to insure that at least one seat on the county commission is held by somebody with closer ties to the wishes of a significant portion of the county population than has been evidenced by recent commissions. I agree that it's important that this new seat be seen as being a true reflection on what voters in D2 really want for themselves. If a runoff is what it takes to determine that, then it's money far wiser spent than many of the ways the current commission has wasted money. May the best man for the job win. 

Is this going to be the only thing on the ballot on June 2xth?  If there are any other primary runoff elections that day, then the incremental cost of having this on the ballot is probably a lot lower, right?
...or close to it. The cost of typsetting the names on the ballot is about the only extra cost I can think of. $5 sounds good.


 With state-wide runoffs, the cost should be minimal, but...

Would there not be two seperate print runs for ballots?

District 2 precincts would have a different ballot from the rest of the county. 

Yes, there will be two ballot styles, D1 will see just the county commissioner race, while D2 will have both races on the ballot.  I'd put the extra costs at about $500.00.

 The reason for the difference between $25,000 and $75,000 is that if it was just D2 only 1/3 of the precincts in the county would be open.  With the Labor runoff all precincts will be open.

...but I'll happily accept your $500 figure. I don't think anyone could say that's too much.
I meant that D1 would just have the Labor Commissioner race

To back up Anita on this, I'm mentioning it again.

 It is such a simple and elegant solution. We are just throwing money & time away out of ignorance. I assume that Nanny Legislature needs to give us permission to make this change?

IRV would make a lot more sense.

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