Turnout may be ‘pitiful’

Published 4:41 pm Saturday, May 15, 2010

Staff Writer

A state elections official predicted “pitiful” turnout for the second primary election set for June 22.
“It’s going to be pitiful, I’m afraid,” Johnnie McLean, deputy director of the N.C. State Board of Elections, said in a telephone interview Friday.
“If the only item on the ballot is the statewide office, which would be the U.S. Senate, it’s going to be low,” McLean added.
Asked for a rough estimate of the cost of the second primary overall, McLean said the tab could reach $3.5 million to $5 million statewide.
Kellie Harris Hopkins, Beaufort County’s elections director, estimates the second primary will cost the county in the neighborhood of $25,000. The second primary to choose the Democratic nominee in the state’s U.S. Senate race will be the only item on the second-primary ballot in Beaufort County.
Hopkins forecasts turnout of around 1.5 percent.
“It’ll be a slow day,” added Tom Payne, chairman of the Beaufort County Board of Elections.
Turnout was expectedly low in the May 4 primary, when just 14.45 percent of North Carolina voters went to the polls, according to numbers available on the State Board of Elections’ Web site.
Beaufort County beat the statewide average, posting turnout of approximately 19.5 percent, unofficial numbers showed last week.
Turnout is typically smaller in a second primary than in the initial party-selection trials, elections officials have pointed out.
Beaufort County voters who are eligible to vote in the statewide second primary are Democrats and unaffiliated voters who chose the Democratic ballot in the first primary or did not vote on May 4, explained Anita Branch, Beaufort County’s deputy elections director.
County voters who aren’t eligible to participate are Republicans, Libertarians or unaffiliated voters who marked a GOP or nonpartisan ballot in the primary.
The second primary will decide a handful of still-contested races in some parts of the state, but the highest-profile bout — the only one relevant to Beaufort County — on the ballot is between the two Democratic candidates.
The as-yet-undecided race between Elaine Marshall and Cal Cunningham is the only statewide race on the ballot for the second primary.
One of these two candidates will advance to face U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., in the Nov. 2 general election.
Marshall, North Carolina’s secretary of state, captured 154,605 votes — 36.35 percent of the vote — in the Democratic primary, the State Board of Elections’ Web site shows.
Cunningham, a former state senator, was second with 115,851 votes, or 27.24 percent.
Of the other four candidates, only attorney Ken Lewis broke 10 percent. Lewis garnered 72,510 votes, or 17.05 percent.
Because Marshall failed to get 40 percent of the vote, Cunningham was able to call for a second primary, which he did in a written request to the State Board of Elections.
A recent poll suggests that Marshall and Cunningham are running dead even.
Marshall had maintained a lead in the polls, but apparently Cunningham has been able to cut into that lead in the post-primary environment.
Public Policy Polling of Raleigh shows the two candidates running neck and neck at 36 percent each.
“There is an enthusiasm gap between the two candidates’ supporters,” reads a PPP news release. “Among the 49% who are very excited to vote in November, Cunningham leads 46-31. Among the 38% who are somewhat excited and the 11% who are not very excited, Marshall leads 42-31 and 28-18, respectively.”
PPP polled 445 likely voters. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.6 percent.