Nearly a month left until Election Day, but early voting starts this week. Beginning Thursday, Mecklenburg County voters can cast a ballot at the Hal Marshall Annex building. Next week 15 additional early voting sites open - mainly at public libraries. (Visit www.MeckBOE.org for a listing.) Mecklenburg County also plans to update voters on the shortest lines at early voting locations through Facebook on Mecklenburg County's page and Twitter @meckcounty #earlyvote. In the 2008 presidential election more than half of Mecklenburg County voters cast a ballot before Election Day. County Elections Director Michael Dickerson expects early voting to be just as popular this year. "Folks enjoy it," says Dickerson. "It's much easier to pick a day that I can dedicate time to go vote instead of just being forced to do it on November 2nd." This election's most-watched races in North Carolina are for Senate and Congress. But numerous judicial seats are up for grabs, including one court of appeals seat that has 13 candidates. That's right, 13. Not only is it a long list, but it's unfamiliar territory for North Carolina. This is the first time something called Instant Runoff Voting is being used in statewide election. Here's why: In August, a Court of Appeals Judge named James Wynn Junior was appointed to U.S. District Court. But by then, primary elections were long gone, so a rarely-used clause in state law kicked in allowing Instant Runoff Voting. Of the 13 candidates who hope to replace Judge Wynn, voters will be asked to rank their top three choices. "Somebody in my office referred to it as going out for ice cream," explains Dickerson. "I'll take chocolate. If we don't have chocolate I'll take vanilla. If you don't have chocolate and vanilla, I'll take strawberry. These are my favorite three candidates. These are the ones I want to win." If no one gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the candidate who appears most on people's list of top-three choices will win the seat. That will prevent the need for a costly runoff election, says Dickerson. But the system works best with a healthy voter turnout, and unfortunately, Dickerson says about a third of voters leave the judicial races empty on their ballot. To learn about candidates for state and local judge, visit www.NCVoterGuide.org.