Lazy, hazy, crazy summer runoffs

July 15, 2012 

Yes, there’s likely to be a good turnout for the statewide runoff elections tomorrow, on a Tuesday deep into a sultry July. Good, that is, if the gauge is the number of candidates’ friends, neighbors and relatives who show up. And we mean close relatives – forget the third cousins.

This shapes up as one of those elections where the poll workers by mid-afternoon will have traded every last bit of gossip, bragged on all of their kids and grandkids’ accomplishments and been reduced to pinching themselves to stay awake. There surely won’t be many voters to keep them occupied.

Even for the most dedicated small-d democrats, mid-summer runoffs are almost farcical in their low visibility. And when you think about the potential consequences of decisions that will be made by a microscopic slice of the electorate, it’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry.

It’s true that nobody will be put into office on the basis of tomorrow’s returns. These are primary runoffs to settle party nominations. But winning a spot on the general election ballot is a necessary step toward actually claiming a job that in each case plays a significant role in North Carolina’s state government.

Republican voters will choose their contender for lieutenant governor in a race pitting Wake County commissioner Tony Gurley against Raleigh architect Dan Forest.

Three other Council of State posts have GOP races. For the party’s secretary of state nomination, former Wake commissioner Kenn Gardner meets Chowan County commissioner Ed Goodwin. In the insurance commissioner race, it’s former state House co-speaker Richard Morgan of Pinehurst vs. Mike Causey of Greensboro. And Wake school board member John Tedesco faces Richard Alexander, a special ed teacher from Monroe, to see who becomes the party’s nominee for superintendent of public instruction.

On the Democratic side, former labor commissioner John Brooks seeks a chance to reclaim that post in a contest with Marlowe Foster of Raleigh, a pharmaceutical company lobbyist.

Runoffs were triggered when the first-place finisher in May primary races failed to get 40 percent of the vote, and the runner-up called for a rematch. The date was pushed into July by a requirement to accommodate military voters. Voters who take the trouble to go to the polls and cast informed ballots will perform a true public service. And they won’t have to worry about the crowds.

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