Tuesday we welcome Election Day in July — perhaps not as rare as Christmas in July, but in both cases not many people get excited, and those who do are usually selling something.
Even so, enough important contests are at stake that we should pay attention — to what the races mean, to our own responsibilities as citizens of a functioning democracy and to the opportunity for the North Carolina Legislature to set up a more perfect system in the future.
This week’s event at the polls is a second primary, a runoff for the small number of races in which too many candidates were competing this spring to allow for a clear decision. Winners on Tuesday will become their party’s nominees for whichever seat, meaning that they may still face opponents from other parties and unaffiliated candidates in November. While Tuesday’s winners could be taking a step toward holding elected office, they could also be engaging in a prolonged meaningless dance toward ultimate defeat.
The major race with local implications, the contest between Denver eye doctor Dr. David Curtis and Sen. Chris Carney of Mooresville for the Republican nomination for N.C. Senate District 44, could be little more than a popularity contest with Iredell and Lincoln backers of each county’s favorite son hoping to come out ahead, possibly by picking up the support of the small number of Gaston County voters in the district. Let’s hope it’s more than that.
During his short time in the Senate, Carney has shown an eagerness to work closely with Lincoln County’s House member, Jason Saine, and shown a general competence in office and familiarity with the issues. Curtis is untested as an officeholder and has committed a number of cringe-inducing mistakes, such as passing out his campaign literature at nonpolitical events. Even some prominent Republicans in Lincoln County have privately expressed reservations about Curtis and his fitness for office. During a brief period as county party leader last year, Curtis was criticized for not making his responsibilities a higher priority. If he does prevail, he’ll face a steep learning curve. He’ll also need to convince voters that they come before his international excursions, however well-intentioned the purpose. Whoever comes out on top will face Ross Bulla, a Denver Democrat, in November.
Even though no other races feature local candidates, the rest each involve important state offices. Democrats will pick a labor commissioner nominee. Republicans will decide on nominees for lieutenant governor, insurance commissioner, superintendent of public instruction and secretary of state.
Many North Carolina newspapers today will be encouraging registered voters to go to the polls for summertime elections that typically feature very low turnout. We don’t necessarily agree. If you’ve been paying attention to news coverage of these races and have well-informed opinions about the best candidates, then please don’t forget to vote. But if you would just be picking a name out of thin air, then stay home. You’ve already squandered your responsibility to participate in the process by ignoring it; don’t make it worse by casting an uninformed ballot.
This week’s elections may not involve many candidates or many voters, but they will cost taxpayers plenty. For this reason, the Legislature should look for ways to avoid these silly runoffs permanently. One option would be to allow the top vote-getter in the first round of balloting to claim victory regardless of how many are running, just as we do for nonpartisan races in November. Another option would be to allow voters to choose a second choice — an instant runoff system that has worked for some judicial elections. Either way, the second primary doesn’t serve democracy very efficiently.
As most Americans know, we have a much bigger Election Day coming up in November. We urge everyone to register, read the newspaper and keep informed about the issues and candidates between now and then. When the time comes to choose everyone from president and governor to school board members and district court judges, we’ll need smart voters going to the polls.