A voter shows her “I voted” sticker as she exits the KIPP Durham College Prep Public School polling site in precinct 18 in Durham on primary Election Day, March 5, 2024. Mehr Sher / Wmforo

Some North Carolina voters will head to the polls again on May 14 for runoff elections in contested primaries, including one congressional race, two statewides races and two local races.

Polls will open at 6:30 a.m. on election day and close at 7:30 p.m.

A runoff election, also known in North Carolina as a second primary, happens when candidates aren’t able to win the primary with 30% or more of the votes and a second-place finisher requests a runoff.

North Carolina is one of just 10 states that require candidates to win primaries with a certain percentage of the votes rather than simple plurality wins.

While not all voters are eligible to vote in runoff elections, political scientists, Christopher Cooper and Michael Bitzer, emphasize the importance of those who are qualified voting during runoffs. The offices that are up for election are critical offices, but aren’t necessarily making the most headlines, Cooper said.

Turnout is typically lower in second primaries and, according to Cooper, is expected to be “abysmally low” after one of the candidates for the 13th congressional district, Kelly Daughtry, announced she was withdrawing from the race. However, the race will still be on ballots on May 14 and Daughtry can’t “technically withdraw from the election” at this point, he said.

“If you want your vote to count,” he said, “in a smaller voting pool the odds are that your vote will make a difference.”

Who can vote in second primary

Only a select group of voters can vote in a runoff election, depending on the political party, participation in the original primary and the races up for contest.

As with any political contest in North Carolina, a voter must be registered in the state and the appropriate jurisdiction for the particular race.

In a Republican race, only those who voted a Republican ballot in the March primary, and who are still registered Republicans or unaffiliated voters, can vote in the second primary. The same applies to voters who filled out a Democratic ballot on the other side, though none of this year’s runoff elections are for Democrats.

Local second primary races can involve nonpartisan races, which allow voters who participated in the March primary to vote regardless of party, but only for those particular races.

Voter turnout is typically lower in second primary elections, according to research by political scientists, Bitzer and Cooper. Runoff election turnout, on average from 2010 through 2022, was just 42% of the voter turnout in the first primary election.

What’s at stake in second primary

While second primary races don’t garner as much attention, they include key races.

“The state auditor is a role that really has an impact in the way we are governed,” Cooper said. “The lieutenant governor has less power formally but is oftentimes a springboard for higher office.”

Statewide, voters will choose between Republicans Hal Weatherman and Jim O’Neill for lieutenant governor and Republicans Jack Clark and Dave Boliek for state auditor.

In North Carolina’s 13th U.S. House District, Daughtry and Brad Knott will appear on the ballot for the Republican nomination, though Daughtry has announced her withdrawal. The district includes all of Caswell, Person, Franklin, Lee, Harnett and Johnston counties, as well as parts of Wake and Granville.

The Democratic nominees for each of those seats were determined in the March primary, so no Democratic second primary was needed for those seats.

On the local level, Gaston County has a Republican second primary for Board of Commissioners. Orange County has a nonpartisan runoff for the county schools Board of Education, though incumbent Jennifer Moore resigned from the board after the March primary.

Election results

The process of counting and reporting of election results in the second primary elections will be similar to the new process in March, “albeit with far fewer ballots cast,” said Patrick Gannon, the state elections board’s public information director.

Due to changes to state law, county boards of elections will have to wait for polls to close before they can begin counting and reporting the results of early voting ballots. Absentee-by-mail ballots can still be counted before the polls close and will be available to the public after.

From 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on election night, precinct officials are likely to hand-deliver results to the county boards of elections.

This is the second election since the state implemented changes to vote counting and reporting. As a result, unofficial election results will likely come later than usual, as they did during the March primary, between 8 p.m. to 12 a.m.

The results for these second primary elections are unpredictable due to lower turnout, according to Cooper.

“In about four in every 10 elections a second-place winner actually emerges victorious,” he said. “We might expect very different kinds of outcomes.”

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. You may republish our stories for free, online or in print. Simply copy and paste the article contents from the box below. Note, some images and interactive features may not be included here.

Mehr Sher is the staff democracy reporter at Wmforo. Contact her at [email protected].