Cover Story: Second primaries - worth it?

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Election day Tuesday in North Carolina and South Carolina.   And yet the number of voters who turned out at the polls was abysmal.

The economy is sluggish, unemployment is high, why wouldn't those issue be driving people to the polls?

Primaries generally attract a relative few.  Second primaries are even worse.

Doesn't matter where you went, the view on Tuesday was the same.  Plenty of precinct workers but next to no voters.

At MecklenburgPrecinct 108, Hickory Grove Baptist Church, they were averaging about a voter every 16 minutes - a 1 1/2 percent turnout at this precinct.

At another precinct on Charlotte's east side William Stinson, Senior had the place to himself at mid-afternoon.   He was disappointed there weren't more people showing up to vote.

"My mother and father and them struggled too long for me not to vote," he said.  "They're gone now but I can vote now. So that's the reason I came out today to vote.  And I take it seriously."

These weren't minor races:  Deciding who will run for the U.S. Senate in November; who could be in the U.S. House next January; and who might become the state's most powerful person.

People who will control our lives.  Why the apathy?

"It's probably less a matter of laziness than about distraction and disinterest."  Dr. Eric Heberlig, a professor of political science at UNC Charlotte, says voters by and large aren't interested in do-overs.

"They can make time twice a year perhaps to vote but once you ask more than it becomes one more thing."

A majority of states have abandoned runoff elections - North and South Carolina in the minority who still have them.

They come at a bad time, in the heat of the summer when thoughts aren't on politics, which leads to tiny turnout.

And races that are decided by a very few.

"The bottom line is somebody's going to decide," says Heberlig.  "You can help make that decision or somebody else is going to make that decision for you. And you're stuck with the consequences regardless."

To be fair there wasn't a lot on the ballot.  Many precincts didn't have Republican races.

The two Carolinas spent millions of dollars holding Tuesday's statewide elections.  Critics say when turnout is below five percent which is typical it's clear the public doesn't want them.  And something needs to change.

Second primaries can end up in surprises.

There have been times when candidates have won the first primary, taking more than a hundred thousand votes but not having the necessary 40-percent to win only to lose in the runoff - in an election where only a few thousand people show up to vote.

Why do we have them? We don't usually have runoffs in the general election?

They date back to when we were a one-party state to a time when - whoever won in the primary would get the office.  In such an important vote-- political parties wanted to make sure the election was properly vetted, which is why they had a runoff when no one 40-percent of the vote.

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