In October 2007, the City of Cary, North Carolina used instant runoff voting for the first time to elect its mayor and several members of city council. Cary is a growing city of more than 100,000 people outside Raleigh, and the elections were hotly contested. They were administered by Wake County. Following are answers provided by Wake County’s elections department to a survey in June 2009. For more information, contact Cherie Poucher at the Wake County Board of Elections, 337 S. Salisbury St., Raleigh, NC 27601, 919-856-6240.
Operational Issues/Implementation Experience
In general, what effects did instant runoff voting have on your jurisdiction? What obstacles had to be overcome?
The General Assembly ratified a bill which allowed 10 jurisdictions to pilot an Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) method of election. The Wake County Board of Elections endorsed the IRV pilot and voted unanimously to discuss the pilot with jurisdictions in the county. The Board approached the Town of Cary, whose mode of election was non-partisan election with runoff (candidate had to receive 50% of the vote plus 1 to be elected). If no candidate reached that majority, a runoff election was held the following month for the top two vote-getters. The Town of Cary agreed to be a pilot, understanding that the second round tally of votes would have to be done manually. The ES&S M-100 firmware and software was not capable to counting an IRV ballot. We developed the IRV count procedure, which was approved by the State Board of Elections. The main obstacle that we had to overcome was the lobbying against IRV by the Verified Voting group.
What effects did instant runoff voting have on election administration?
IRV was very easy to administer. We did do a lot of education – direct mailers, speaking at civic groups, and information on the web. We also had a DVD that played continuously at the polling places regarding the correct way to mark the ballot. An independent survey of the voters was conducted with a very favorable response. The advantage to IRV regarding election administration is the fact that you don’t have to immediately begin preparations for a runoff election.
If applicable, how has instant runoff voting affected your relationship with other jurisdictions in terms of conducting elections?
The Town of Cary prefers to wait until software is available to fully count the IRV ballot.
Prior to implementation, did your jurisdiction identify any value between a primary and general election?
The two main advantages to IRV: More people tend to vote in the first election than in a runoff election. Therefore, the winner is elected by a higher majority of voters. The second is the cost savings by not having to conduct a separate election. Another advantage to IRV is the winner is known a week after the October election vs. a week after the November election. That gives the newly elected official an additional month to “get up to speed” on major issues before the council prior to the swearing in which takes place in December.
Is instant runoff voting applicable to all contests in your jurisdiction?
IRV was applicable to all contests for the Town of Cary 2007 election.
Has instant runoff voting had any effect on Vote-By-Mail/Absentee Voting?
Since we did the pilot for only one municipality, it had no effect on absentee voting – either by mail or in person absentee (early voting).
Are there any serious indications that the instant runoff voting model currently in place will be abandoned for the former or new election model? If so, why?
IRV was a pilot. As stated previous, the Town of Cary did discuss IRV for the 2009 election as well as a simple plurality election. For the 2009 election cycle, the Town agreed to maintain the non-partisan election with runoff method previously used.
Is your jurisdiction able to provide the instant runoff voting Working Group with additional data or research regarding instant runoff voting in your jurisdiction, including information leading up to its implementation?
The Wake County Board of Elections worked with several non-partisan groups when implementing IRV. The League of Women Voters, Democracy North Carolina, NC Center for Voter Education and Fair Vote helped with the educational portion, DVD production and volunteers at the polls to answer questions. An exit poll was drafted and conducted with more than 1600 voters in Districts B and D. Over 72% said they preferred IRV and 96% reported it was at least “somewhat easy to understand. And 82% agreeing that the IRV ballot was very easy to understand.
Was instant runoff voting adopted by voter initiative? Did this include a change in election dates?
IRV was a pilot program ratified by the North Carolina General Assembly. It did not change any election dates.
What legal and procedural changes were required to implement instant runoff voting?
Approval from a jurisdiction to become a pilot.
Have any significant constitutional issues arisen as a result of implementing instant runoff voting?
How are voting rights and minority language issues addressed?
The voting instructions were also printed in Spanish, as required by North Carolina law. Wake County is not a voting rights county; even though the State of North Carolina is. Therefore, the ratified statute allowing the pilot would have been submitted to the Department of Justice by the State Board of Elections.
How were State and Federal certification requirements addressed for your voting system?
This was a municipal election only. Using optical scan ballots, only the first column votes were tallied by the scanner on Election Day and reported.
How has instant runoff voting affected your ballot structure? For example, how many cards are necessary under the instant runoff voting model?
Utilizing optical scan ballots, only one ballot was necessary – with 3 columns per candidate.
In general, how many contests are seen on a ballot?
The number of contests on a ballot varies depending on the type of election. In municipal elections, there are fewer contests and the ballot is generally 8-1/2 x 11. In general elections, the ballot has more contests and the ballot is generally 8-1/2 x 14 – double-sized.
How many candidates are voters required to rank?
For the Town of Cary election, the voters were able to vote 1st choice, 2nd choice and 3rd choice.
Is there any significant difference in turnout between pre-instant runoff voting elections and post-instant runoff voting elections?
As stated before, since the IRV election was conducted in October (the month voters had voted in Cary in previous years), turnout would be higher than a runoff. Also, there was a much contested mayoral race on the ballot, which would impact voter turnout.
Are voters required to rank all candidates?
Voters were not required to rank all candidates.
Do voters take advantage of the opportunity to rank candidates?
Attached with this document is the count of the 2nd and 3rd choice votes in the District B contest – only contest where there was not a majority winner. The 3rd place candidate received 793 votes – that is the number of ballots that had to be hand counted for the voter’s 2nd or 3rd choice.
Voter and Poll worker Education and Outreach
How was voter education/outreach approached during implementation?
The Board of Elections Chair and a group of volunteers went to various groups to give speeches on the process. There was a great deal of television and print media coverage, posters throughout the Town, a special website about the process, direct mailing to all households in the Town. On Election Day, volunteers were at each precinct to answer questions. DVD played continuously at each polling place showing the voting process and how it worked.
How was poll worker training approached during implementation?
Separate training sessions were conducted for the Town of Cary officials. Each official attends a review training, statutory training (information on that election) and training on provisional ballots. At the training, a great deal of time was devoted to the IRV method of voting and how the 2nd and 3rd choice votes would be counted.
Has this approach to voter education/outreach and poll worker training changed since implementation?
IRV was only used once in Wake County.
How does instant runoff voting affect the various demographics in your jurisdiction?
The Town of Cary is an urban area with middle to high income. The study conducted on Election Day found no significant differences between different types of voters in their understanding or preference for IRV: whites and non-whites, males and females, lower and higher income voters all evaluated IRV roughly equally.
Effect of instant runoff voting on Candidates/Ethics Issues
Did instant runoff voting affect the typical number of candidates in a race?
Does your jurisdiction have a matching funds program for candidates? If so, were there more candidates participating in a matching funds program? Also, was there an increase or decrease in independent expenditures?
Implementation Costs and Cost Savings
How much did the instant runoff voting implementation process cost?
The expenses to implement IRV for the Town of Cary included a mailing to the residents of the Town (approximately $9,000) and approximately $500 for the hand sort and count of the District B ballots.
What cost savings did your jurisdiction experience?
The Town of Cary saved the contract price for a second election plus the cost of conducting the election in the District B precincts – approximate savings of $28,000.