The meeting was a follow-up to a letter sent to the state board of elections suggesting a resolution to election law to save counties money on the run-off primaries, which traditionally draw lower turnouts than general elections.
In attendance were N.C. Sen. Bill Purcell, N.C. Rep. Melanie Wade Goodwin, State Board of Elections Executive Director Gary Bartlett, representatives of both Richmond County Democrats and Republicans and General Assembly candidate Ken Goodman who attended as a member of the public.
“I thought it was a very productive meeting,” Board Chairwoman Hilda Pemberton said. “What the board has been concerned about is the cost of the second primaries, especially considering the abysmal turnout we’ve had for them in the past.”
In May’s run-off elections to select November opponents for U.S. Rep. Larry Kissell and U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, about 1,400 of the county’s 30,000 registered voters turned out to the county’s 16 polling precincts.
The election cost the county about $16,000, with the bulk of the expense going towards paying poll workers, purchasing ballots and programming voter equipment.
The low turnout and high expense weren’t unique to Richmond County, they were reported across the state. The figures also reflect similar outcomes from previous run-offs.
Statewide, the 2010 run-off was estimated to cost taxpayers between $3.5 million and $5 million, and the Associated Press reported about 4 percent of the state’s registered voters showed up.
“What we’re advising isn’t necessarily getting rid of the second primary,” Pemberton explained. “We’re just trying to find a new way of conducting them that is much more efficient and budget-friendly, so we’re asking the state board to consider using the one-stop process as a way of saving money.”
She went on to explain their proposal would include either opening the county board of elections as the lone polling site on the election date, or using a “regional approach” and consolidating the county’s voting districts into two or three sites.
Pemberton described the feedback the board received from the lawmakers and state director of elections as “excellent.”
“I think it makes sense and it’s something we need to look at,” Purcell said Tuesday. “Afterward, (State Elections Director) Gary Bartlett said he would take their idea under consideration, and consult with state representatives to see if this may be something that needs to be proposed during the next session of the General Assembly.”
Bartlett said this was an idea that was explored around 2005, but died for lack of interest.
He said he will be working with legislative staff to try to draft a bill allowing boards of elections to cut back on the amount of resources they use for these special primaries.
“We’d have to take a more global view for the whole state than just what would work in Richmond County,” Bartlett said. “We’d have to make sure these locations don’t put any undue burden on voters or disadvantage any candidates.”
He said that from conversations he’s had with other elections boards across the state, this idea could cut the taxpayer expense of these special elections by about half “and certainly make elections much more easier to administer or manage.”
“The next time we have one of these elections, we’ll hopefully have permission to do it this way,” Pemberton explained. “One idea that was discussed was us doing it as a pilot project with perhaps 10 other counties across the state.”
“I’m sure there would be some who wouldn’t like to have drive the extra distance, but not as many voters show up for the second primaries anyway,” Purcell said. “I don’t think you could do this for a presidential election, but it seems like a good idea to help counties save money.”
Staff Writer Philip D. Brown can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ext. 32, or by e-mail at email@example.com.