Under the Dome

How does a primary runoff work?


When no candidate in a state primary receives 40 percent or more of the vote, a runoff may be requested.

Under state law, the runner-up must request a runoff by notifying the State Board of Elections by the ninth day after the election. Only the top two vote-getters can be included on the second ballot.

Second primary elections are held seven weeks after the first election.

Primary runoff elections are popular in the South. In the past, they were meant to ensure that a fringe candidate in a crowded race did not win the nomination, especially in districts or states where one party tended to dominate the general election.

From 1915 to 1989, a candidate had to win 50 percent of the votes plus one in the primary in order to avoid a runoff. In 1997, the state Senate voted to abolish the primary runoff, but the bill did not pass the House of Representatives.

Because of the high number of elected statewide positions in North Carolina, primary runoffs occur with some regularity when more than two candidates are running for an office.

Some have objected to the cost of these runoffs, especially in down-ballot races such as labor commissioner that tend to have extremely low turnout. Suggested solutions have included instituting instant-runoff voting, lowering the threshold to declare a winner or having candidates pledge to not request a runoff.

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