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Runoff elections will keep NC primary season alive until May 14

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by Mehr Sher, NC Newsline
March 15, 2024

In North Carolina the primary election season isn’t over yet, but will continue for the next two months with some contested races going to runoff elections on May 14. Early voting for those contests runs from April 25 to May 11.

North Carolina is one of just 10 U.S. states that require a candidate to win a primary with a certain percentage of the votes cast. If no candidate reaches that level, the top two advance to a second primary, also called a runoff election.

What is a runoff election

In primary elections, candidates have to reach a specific vote percentage to become a nominee for their political party on the ballot. If the first place finisher does not get 30% or more of the votes, then candidates in the primaries can be eligible for a runoff election.

The runoff elections are between “the top two vote-getters” and the second-place finisher “has to actually call for a runoff election,” for it to happen, said Christopher Cooper, a professor of political science and public affairs at Western Carolina University.

In the past the threshold to avoid a runoff election was higher, noted Cooper and Mac McCorkle, a professor of the practice at Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. At one time it was 50% and then 40%, before lawmakers changed it in 2017 to 30%, Cooper said.

On the Democratic side, concerns existed about “not being fair” and that “the higher barrier was tougher for candidates of color to surpass,” McCorkle said. With such a low threshold at 30%, now we don’t see as many runoff elections anymore, he said.

Runoff elections also prevent fringe candidates in “a widely divided multi-candidate field” from winning an election, said Steven Greene, a political science professor at North Carolina State University. By setting a minimum threshold in North Carolina’s case, “you are taking steps to make sure that some modest portion of the electorate supports this person,” he said.Who votes in second primary

Only a select group of voters can vote in a runoff election, depending on the political party and the races.

If it is a Democratic runoff primary election, then only voters who are registered Democrats and unaffiliated voters who voted Democratic in the primaries can vote and if the runoff race is a Republican one, then only voters who are registered Republicans or unaffiliated voters who voted Republican in the primaries can vote.

But depending on the race, the pool of voters can shrink further. In a congressional race, only voters who meet the aforementioned conditions within that district can vote, whereas in a lieutenant governor race, for instance, any voter affiliated with that party or who voted on that party’s ballot in the primaries can vote.

The upcoming runoff elections, for example, are Republican races. “So Republican or unaffiliated voters who chose the Republican ballot can vote,” Cooper said. The reason why the races heading to runoffs are Republican races is because the party had more candidates, according to Cooper.

Turnout is typically lower in primary elections than general elections and will likely be even lower for runoffs, said McCorkle, “and you’re going to end up with the most dedicated voters or voters who are dedicated to the Trump cause.”Races affected

Four North Carolina Republican primary races for Council of State and U.S. House are headed for runoff elections on May 14, provided the election results are confirmed at canvassing and the second-place finisher seeks a runoff.

The GOP lieutenant governor race between Hal Weatherman, who has served as a political aide, and Jim O’Neill, the Forsyth County district attorney, appears headed into a second primary. It is the second-highest office in North Carolina. A lieutenant governor doesn’t have many powers, but sits on the Council of State, presides over the state Senate and leads the State Board of Education.

The office of the state auditor may also go into a runoff election and is responsible for examining the state government for any misuse of taxpayer money. Republican candidates Jack Clark, a certified public accountant and budget policy analyst for the state legislature, and Dave Boliek, a Fayetteville attorney and a former UNC Chapel Hill Board of Trustees chair will be running against each other.

In the 13th congressional district, another redrawn district which includes Johnston County and parts of Harnett, Wake and Wayne counties, Republicans Kelly Daughtry and Brad Knott are heading to a runoff election. Daughtry is an attorney and the daughter of Leo Daughtry, a longtime Republican lawmaker who serves on the UNC Board of Governors. Knott is a former federal prosecutor.

Both congressional districts were recently redrawn as predominantly Republican districts.

“The candidates who can prove they are the most Trumpian most MAGA are probably going to have a disproportionate advantage,” said McCorkle,  and “whoever wins the runoffs will probably win in the general election in these two districts.”

Greene agreed. “When you have gerrymandered districts, the reality is that the primaries essentially determine the results,” he said. “The Republican Party is not your grandfather’s or father’s Republican party anymore. The base is very pro-Trump, which is very much reflected in the primary results.”

The four races and possibly other ones take place on May 14.Leading to the end of the canvass period, when county results are made official, or by March 15, there is a possibility that additional races for local level officials, county commissioners or sheriffs also head for runoff elections,  according to Cooper.

This article first appeared on Carolina Public Press and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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This story is republished from NC Newsline under a Creative Commons license. Read the original story.