Pricey Harrison

Friday, May 20, 2005

Election Bills:Instant Runoff;Training For Campaign Treasurers

Up to 10 counties would have the option of trying an "instant runoff" in upcoming primary elections to avoid the expense and time of a separate second vote under legislation I co-sponsored, which was approved Wednesday by the House. Also, preliminary approval was given to a bill that would require campaign treasurers to attend training provided by the State Board of Elections, and would make other small changes to state campaign finance laws.

* Under the instant runoff bill, approved 79-32 and sent to the Senate, counties chosen by the board could try the process in local elections this year and next. Voters would rank their order of preference among the candidates listed and election officials initially would tally only the first choices. If the leading candidate fails to win more than 40 percent of the first-choice votes, the top two candidates would advance to the runoff. In the runoff, election officials would examine the ballots of voters whose first-choice candidate was eliminated and check how many times each of the remaining two candidates was the highest-ranked alternative choice. These totals would then be added to the original totals for the top two candidates, and the person with the most votes would be declared the winner. Supporters said the process would reduce the cost of a separate runoff, which on a statewide level can be millions of dollars but can draw very little interest. The pilot program that would be created could be recommended for wider use in 2007.

* Yesterday the House passed HB 1128 to improve campaign finance laws. It was requested by the State Elections Board and came, in part, as a result of the conviction of Agriculture Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps and her campaign treasurer, Linda Saunders, on election fraud and extortion charges. According to the bill's sponsor, Rep. Deborah Ross, (D-Wake), it also reflected concern over an audit of campaign finance reports from the 2002 election. The audit of 85 percent of the reports found that, of those audited, 80 percent had errors, some of which rose to misdemeanor status.

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