Surry’s cost for second primary may exceed $40,000

By Tom Joyce

July 2, 2014

DOBSON — Everyone’s vote counts in a democracy, but participation in a second primary involving a congressional seat — for which early voting begins today — can be considered even more valuable locally due to its accompanying high cost.

“Even in a small county like Surry, we have usually budgeted between $40,000 and $43,000,” county Elections Director Susan Jarrell said Wednesday of the expense of second primary, or runoff, elections.

The latest example involves a runoff between Phil Berger Jr. and Mark Walker, two Republican candidates seeking their party’s nomination for the Sixth District congressional seat now held by Rep. Howard Coble.

One-stop absentee early voting for it begins today in Dobson, ahead of the runoff day itself on July 15. Ballots can be cast from 8:15 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Surry Board of Elections in Dobson, located on the lower level of the new county courthouse.

The office will be closed Friday for Independence Day, but early voting will resume during the same hours on Monday through Friday of next week. On the Saturday before the election, on July 12, early voting will be offered in Dobson from 8:15 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Not Open To All

Jarrell emphasized Wednesday that only certain voters are eligible to take part in the second primary, necessitated when Berger was unable to capture a substantial plurality among nine GOP congressional candidates in the first primary on May 6.

Voting is limited to registered Republicans in Surry, who numbered 17,559 as of Wednesday afternoon, and some ranks of unaffiliated voters, of which there are 9,916.

Only those unaffiliated voters who cast a Republican ballot during the first primary, or didn’t cast ballots at all then, may vote in the second primary. Unaffiliated voters can choose either the Democratic or Republican ballot in a primary, but that choice carries over to a runoff.

“I’m sure we’ll get some confusion,” Jarrell said of the restrictions involved, but the staff at the elections office is encouraging anyone who can cast a ballot to do so.

“As always, we hope everyone who is eligible will go out and vote,” she said.

If the spirit of the American way so prevalent around the Fourth of July is not enough of a motivator, Jarrell hopes the costs of the second primary to taxpayers will stimulate interest among voters.

The $40,000 to $43,000 budgeted for the second primary is mainly due to the personnel needs of the process, according to Jarrell. That includes a minimum of three people required at each polling location on July 15, such as precinct judges and others.

“With 29 precincts (in Surry), that’s 87 people we have to pay that day,” the elections director said.

There are other costs associated with the absentee ballot process required by the second primary, and early voting, although that will be lessened because no satellite stations will be operating in Mount Airy or Elkin.

Voters elsewhere in the Sixth District also are involved in the runoff, including portions of Guilford, Alamance, Durham, Granville and Orange counties, and all of Caswell, Person, Rockingham and Stokes counties.

The winner between Berger and Walker will square off against Democratic nominee Laura Fjeld in the Nov. 4 general election.

The victor then will replace Coble, who is retiring when his present term ends.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-719-1924 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.