CARY, NC -- On October 9, Cary became the first city in the U.S. South to use instant runoff voting (IRV). An exit poll designed by North Carolina State University professor Michael Cobb found that nearly three in four voters preferred the new ranked voting system over their old runoff system; and only 4% found it difficult to understand. Used in a rapidly growing number of American cities, IRV generates a majority winner in one election by allowing voters to rank candidates in order of preference.
The exit poll of more than 1,600 Cary voters showed that 72 percent preferred IRV over traditional single-candidate voting. Fully 96 percent reported that they found the system at least "somewhat easy to understand," with 82 percent calling it "very easy."
Ralph Betts, the voter who cast the first IRV ballot in Cary, told a local television station, "It was very simple, very easy. Anyone could do it." FairVote's executive director Rob Richie commented, "With attention to ballot design and voter education, IRV really is as easy as 1-2-3 for voters. And that simple change has great positive value for our politics."
In Cary's council district B, IRV went into effect when no candidate received a majority of first-choice votes. Wake County Board of Elections members, staff and volunteers from the League of Women Voters of Wake County tallied the back-up rankings of voters who chose the eliminated candidate. On Tuesday, October 16, Don Frantz was certified as the winner.
It is estimated that the city of Cary saved about $15,000 by avoiding a physical runoff, which would have resulted in much lower voter turnout and greater campaign finance demands.
Hendersonville (NC) will use IRV in its November 6 city council elections, and up to 10 North Carolina counties have the option to use IRV next year for their countywide elections. IRV is now used in cities such as San Francisco (CA), Burlington (VT), and Takoma Park (MD), and has won landslide support in ballot measures in several other cities, including Minneapolis (MN) and Oakland (CA). In upcoming months ballot measures on IRV will take place in Sarasota (FL), Santa Fe (NM) and Clallam County (WA), while the Vermont state house will consider senate-backed legislation to use IRV for congressional elections. National backers include presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain.
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