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Monday, December 20, 2010

After 48 days the instant runoff voting contest for NC Court of Appeals is over

Just in time for Christmas. 48 days after the election, instant runoff voting produces a "winner" for the NC Court of Appeals contest for Wynn's seat. Initially, Cressie Thigpen was leading by 100,000 votes but he only had 20% of the votes cast amongst the 13 candidates. Next, 2nd and 3rd choice votes for Thigpen & McCullough were added, erasing Thigpen's lead and putting McCullough about 6,500 votes ahead.  With IRV votes, Doug McCullough had the lead. Even after all the adding of IRV votes, McCullough won with 28% of all voters' ballots cast on election day.The election was so close that Thigpen called for a recount. This was done by machine. The results changed slightly. Thigpen went down 120 votes, from 537,445 to 537,325. McCullough went down 43 votes, from 544,023 to 543,980. McCullough won by 6,655 votes (including IRV). I'm basing this on numbers from data at NCSBE site on Dec 13 - see screen shot  and results now up at the State Board of Elections website on Dec 20 

Concession after N.C. Court of Appeals recount widens lead
The Associated Press © December 20, 2010 By Gary D. Robertson 
Doug McCullough is returning to North Carolina's Court of Appeals after a completed statewide recount Monday showed McCullough still in the lead and incumbent Judge Cressie Thigpen conceded the election.
Thigpen conceded defeat after the complete recount in all 100 counties had McCullough, a former member of the state's intermediate appeals court, leading by 6,655 votes. Nearly 1.1 million votes were recorded between the two candidates in the instant runoff race.
Thigpen sought the recount when unofficial results showed him trailing by about 6,000 votes, saying he wanted to make sure election officials counted properly ballots cast through the unusual voting method. The margin widened to more than 6,500 votes before the recount began.
The recount began as early as Dec. 10 in some counties and wrapped up early Monday. Election reform advocates have been keeping an eye on the race because the ranking concept hadn't been used in a statewide race anywhere in at least 70 years.
"I would like to thank the voters who showed faith in me during this process and to the N.C. State Board of Elections for their diligence to insure votes were properly counted," Thipgen said in a prepared statement. "The voters have spoken and I congratulate Judge McCullough for his victory and will do all I can to make any transition seamless."
McCullough is a former federal prosecutor from Atlantic Beach who served on the Court of Appeals from 2000 through 2008. He didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
State elections director Gary Bartlett said the next step for the board is to certify the outcome. It was the board's final unresolved race in North Carolina from the 2010 elections. No date had been set Monday afternoon.
Gov. Beverly Perdue had appointed Thigpen in August to serve through the rest of the year on the court and fill the seat vacated when Jim Wynn was confirmed to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. A 2006 state law required the instant runoff method to fill the seat because Thigpen and 12 other candidates ran for an eight-year term. Voters were asked to rank three candidates from the 13 on the Election Day ballot.
Thigpen and McCullough advanced to the second round of voting because they received the most first place votes. Election officials then separated the ballots of voters whose first-choice candidate was eliminated and counted how many of them made Thigpen and McCullough their next highest choice. Those choices were added to the original counts of the two. The candidate with the most combined votes was the winner.
McCullough trailed Thigpen by 100,000 votes in the first round.
Rob Richie, executive director the election reform group FairVote, said the statewide use of instant runoff voting was successful although it took 48 days after Election Day to finalize the winner. He said the method saved millions of dollars it would have cost to organize a separate runoff election. The state elections board and other groups provided voters information on how the ranking worked.
"It's a pretty fair reflection of a fairly close race," Richie said in a phone interview. "It seems like the voter education that was done was effective."
But critics said the process was still hard to understand for many voters, and the permutations of voting outcomes among 13 candidates hard for election officials to ensure the outcomes were accurate. Counties that used electronic voting machines also counted second-round totals with untested tabulating software, according to Joyce McCloy with the N.C. Coalition for Verified Voting.
"Instant runoff voting was not instant, nor was it like a runoff election," she wrote in an e-mail.
Bartlett said there were no major problems with the count and voters got to participate in picking the winner.
"Whether you like it or not, it worked," he said.

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