The Summer Doldrums Go To The Polls

Michael Bitzer

It’s the dog-days of a long, hot summer, and you reach for an ice cold glass of sweet tea — but imagine having only three percent of that tall eight ounces? Think sipping about 1.5 teaspoons will quench your thirst?

Better yet, what about taking a relaxing bath in only three percent of a normal bathtub?  You’d be soaking in only a little over two gallons of water.

Now imagine an election where only three percent of 6.1 million of North Carolina’s registered voters participated, and you get the full impact of our summer electoral doldrums.

While the official numbers won’t be certified for a few more days, the results from the second primary (runoff election) point to some interesting observations about an election that barely anyone showed up for.

Take, for example, the two hotly contested GOP battles for the 8th and 9th U.S. House races.  In the May primary for the 8th district, 66,883 voters cast ballots for the five-man race, with Richard Hudson scoring 32 percent to Scott Keadle’s 22 percent, bringing about the run-off.

In the second primary, only 16,708 voters cast their ballots in the bitter contest — or, only one-quarter of the previous electorate.

In the Pittenger-Pendergraph battle of the 9th, nearly 92,500 voters came to the polls in May, with Pittinger garnering 32 percent to Pendergraph’s 25 percent.

Flash forward several weeks later into the middle of July, and only 35,779 decided the 9th GOP contest, or 39 percent of the total May electorate.

In every county of the 8th and 9th — save one — all of the candidates received substantially lower votes than they did in May.  For example, Richard Hudson got 18 percent (158 votes) in Robeson County that he got in May (849 votes).

In fact, Robeson County saw only 271 votes cast in the run-off for the 8th, representing 11 percent of the total votes cast in the May primary. 

But in Rowan County, Hudson nearly doubled his first primary figures, going from 1,196 in May to 2,318 votes.

In the 9th, Mecklenburg County continued to be the powerhouse of voters in the new district, delivering 71 percent of the runoff votes cast.  But the 25,500 votes from the Great State of Meck was only 40 percent of what had been cast in the same contest in May.

Looking across the state, we find that the usual pattern of run-off victors holds, based on previous research: we would expect 70 percent of those who came in first, but were forced into a runoff, to ultimately win the nomination.

In this year’s fifteen runoff contests, only four races saw an upset in the runoff; 74 percent of the runoff races saw May’s first-place winner go on to secure the nomination in the run-off. 

For three state legislative races in the runoff election, the winners got an automatic bye to go straight to Raleigh, by-passing the November election. 

In state senate districts 12 (covering Harnett, Lee, and part of Johnston counties) and 41 (covering Mecklenburg), and house district 44 (covering Cumberland), the winners in the runoff election face no opposition in November, so they can start preparing for the 2013 session — barring something like a write-in candidacy in the fall.

Now that we have the final contestants for the fall campaign, when we hear folks complain about who they are going to vote for in the general election, you might want to remind them—“do you want ice with that three percent of tea?”


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