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.
To receive updates by email visit this link http://feedburner.google.com/fb/a/mailverify?uri=ProtectNorthCarolinaElections-StopIrv&loc=en_US