Runoff for N.C. labor chief expected to draw about 1 percent of voters
By Steve Huffman
A runoff today in the race for labor commissioner is likely to labor in obscurity.
The runoff, which is expected to cost about $25,000 in Rowan County and up to $5 million statewide, pits Democratic candidates Mary Fant Donnan and former commissioner John C. Brooks.
The cost will be shared by all of North Carolina’s 100 counties, though some may pay more if there are local elections included on the ballot.
Nancy Evans, Rowan County’s elections director, said she expects slightly more than 1 percent of the county’s 90,000 registered voters to make it to the polls.
Regardless of the expected low turnout, all of Rowan County’s 46 precincts must be staffed from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., each with three workers.
“We’ve told them to bring something to read,” Evans said of suggestions on how precinct workers might bide their time. “They know it’s going to be a slow one.”
Percentage-wise, the vote may be the lowest in county history, eclipsing a 1996 runoff when a miniscule 1.81 percent of the county’s voters bothered to cast ballots.
In today’s runoff, all registered Democrats are eligible to vote. Also, any unaffiliated voter (other than those who cast Republican ballots in the May primary) can vote.
Even unaffiliated voters who didn’t vote in the May primary can cast ballots.
Not many of them are likely to do so, though. In fact, it’s doubtful that much of anyone will be going to the polls today.
Evans said the cost of preparing for today’s runoff is similar to preparing for any election. Ballots cost $4,000 to prepare and staffing of the precincts costs another $16,000.
Trucks must be rented to transport voting machines to and from the precincts and some overtime must be paid.
“It’s quite a chunk,” Evans said of the expense of staging the runoff.
In the May 6 primary, Donnan bested Brooks and fellow Democrats Ty Richardson and Robin Anderson in a close race.
Donnan received about 27.5 percent of the vote. Her vote total was 330,581, which was a little more than 38,000 more votes than Brooks garnered. Brooks finished with 24.4 percent of the vote.
Since Donnan failed to receive 40 percent of the vote, Brooks exercised his right under state law to request a second primary.
Rowan County voters have thus far responded with an overwhelming yawn.
Slightly more than 30 voters took advantage of Early Voting for the runoff. Another 40 absentee ballots have been cast.
“That’s the law,” Evans said of Brooks’ right to call for a runoff. “We knew the turnout was going to be low.”
Here’s a little information on the candidates:
– Donnan is a program officer for the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem. She formerly worked as a policy analyst and director of research and policy at the Department of Labor.
– Brooks, an attorney for the N.C. Industrial Commission of the N.C. Department of Commerce, served as labor commissioner from 1977 to 1993.
The winner in the runoff will square off against incumbent Cherie Berry in the November general election.