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Council Looks At Changing Election Method

Kendall Jones // Published March 13, 2009 in MyNC

CARY, N.C. -

After a public hearing and more than half-an-hour of debate, Cary Town Council members decided to re-evaluate the way Cary citizens choose their leaders.

At its Thursday meeting, the Town Council voted to change the voting system to a non-partisan plurality system.
Currently, Cary uses a non-partisan election and runoff to select its leaders.

That means if a candidate does not receive more than 50 percent of the vote, there could be a second, or runoff, election between the top two choices.

Under a non-partisan plurality system, runoff elections are eliminated and the person with the most votes wins.

The council will have a public hearing on the issue in April, but much of the debate Thursday night centered around whether the town should continue to use instant runoff voting (IRV) in future elections.

In IRV, voters choose a first, second and third candidate on a paper ballot.

If a single candidate does not receive more than 50 percent of the "first choice" votes, the top two candidates have an "instant runoff."

Election officials then add voters' second and third choices to see which candidate has the most votes.

The Town of Cary participated in a pilot program of IRV in 2007.

Staff members said having one election saved the town $28,000 over having one election and then a separate runoff election.

Multiple Cary citizens spoke in favor of and against IRV, but council members could not decide on whether to continue using the system for the upcoming 2009 elections.

"Until the board of elections has a way of counting those second and third ballots that feels as certain, as familiar and as accurate as counting those first ballots, then we do not need to participate," Councilwoman Gale Adcock said, adding that she had no problem with the idea of IRV. "They need to fix that."

Councilmen Ervin Portman and Don Frantz both spoke out in favor of continuing the town's use of IRV.

"I was elected utilizing instant runoff voting," Frantz said. "I'm actually the first candidate in the state of North Carolina to ever be elected utilizing instant runoff voting."

Council members said they will continue to investigate the pros and cons of IRV, but decided Thursday to change the election method to a non-partisan plurality by a 6-1 margin, with Councilman Portman voting against the change.

The council will have to make a final decision on the 2009 election method by the end of April.