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Voter Drop Off In N.C. Judicial Races Less Steep Than '08
By Bryan Warner
Published: Nov. 10, 2010
RALEIGH - In most elections, races for the White House, U.S. Senate or governor’s mansion are the main draw for voters.
Often times lost among those big-name races are down-ballot contests for North Carolina’s courts. For instance, about 99 percent of voters who went to the polls this year cast a vote in the U.S. Senate contest. However, only about 75 percent of these voters also cast a vote in the N.C. Supreme Court race.
Known as “voter drop off,” the phenomenon was slightly less pronounced in this year’s appellate court races than was the case in 2008.
With roughly 43 percent voter turnout in 2010 -- contrasted with 70 percent turnout in 2008 -- the sheer number of ballots cast in statewide judicial races was down this year. Two years ago, almost 3.1 million votes were cast in that election’s sole N.C. Supreme Court contest. In 2010, about 2 million votes were cast in the only N.C. Supreme Court race on the ballot, according to unofficial results from the State Board of Elections.
Yet a higher share -- 75 percent -- of ballots cast this year included a vote in the N.C. Supreme Court race, compared with 71 percent of ballots in 2008.
Two years ago, the high mark for N.C. Court of Appeals races was 68 percent participation among voters who cast a ballot. Voter drop off declined in the 2010 Appeals Court races, with 72 percent of voters who cast a ballot also voting in the contest between Ann Marie Calabria and Jane Gray.
The same proportion -- 72 percent -- voted in the 13-candidate “instant runoff” race for the N.C. Court of Appeals, which appeared at the bottom of the ballot and asked voters to rank their top three choices among the contenders.
This year’s drop off in state appellate races was greater than that seen in 2006, when 84 percent of voters who cast a ballot also made a selection in the contest for N.C. Supreme Court chief justice. That year’s three other state Supreme Court contests averaged 79 percent participation and its two N.C. Court of Appeals races each had 76 percent participation among citizens who turned out to vote.
However, 2006 was a so-called “blue moon election,” when races for the N.C. Supreme Court and N.C. Court of Appeals were the only statewide contests on the ballot. That election saw a record-low 37 percent turnout.
North Carolina’s judicial races are nonpartisan, and as such are not included in a straight-party vote but rather must be voted upon separately. In 2010, 43 percent of ballots cast included a straight-party ticket, which may have contributed somewhat to voter drop off.
Yet 91 percent of voters who cast a ballot voted on the proposed constitutional amendment barring felons from running for sheriff -- which, like court races, appeared toward the end of the ballot and was not included in a straight-party vote.