by Donna King
Editor-in-Chief, Carolina Journal
In November, voters will head to the polls, and millions of North Carolinians will turn out to vote, but only a percentage of those will fill out their entire ballot.
In 2016, nearly a million people (780,212) who cast a presidential ballot did not vote in the North Carolina Supreme Court race. In that race, Justice Robert Edmunds was defeated by Mike Morgan on the high court, shifting the balance from 4-3 Republican to 4-3 Democrat. In the 2020 election, 133,303 people voted for president and did not vote for chief justice of the state Supreme Court. Republican Paul Newby defeated incumbent Cheri Beasley by just 401 votes.
Down the ballot, hundreds of thousands of North Carolina voters who made an effort to register, stand in line, and cast a ballot, left boxes blank in races ranging from the attorney general, to state supreme court, and superintendent of public instruction. The numbers drop off for local races too.
Filling out your entire ballot matters.
The importance of “down ballot” voting is not new this year. It has always been critical, and a missed opportunity to have your voice heard in the broadest possible sense. Despite historic inflation and escalating federal spending, local government has the biggest impact on the individual through county commissioners, school boards, county sheriffs, and other officials.
This year every seat in the North Carolina General Assembly is on the ballot; 50 Senate seats and all 120 House seats. That means state taxes, spending, industry regulations, and education policy are all up to you—the N.C. Senate has two seats, and the House is three seats away from a veto-proof majority. That would enable the legislature to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto stamp. So far, Cooper has vetoed more legislation than all governors in the history of North Carolina combined.
Two critical races for the state supreme court are also on the ballot. If Republicans flip just one of them, the highest court shifts back from left-leaning to right-leaning. Democrats in those races have been dramatically out-raising Republicans for a seat on the bench. The high court is weighing cases on Voter ID, the state’s Congressional maps, and which branch of government controls state coffers, all critical to the state’s public policy path.
Control over local school boards across the state is up for grabs too. While education is a state-level function, the legislature passes money and authority to the local school boards for day-to-day operations. When the state shut down schools during COVID, learning loss and remote classes drove parents to pay more attention to who was making the decisions for their children. Protests and heated school board meetings are now happening in areas where local education policy once flew under the public radar. Opposition to Critical Race Theory, and demands that school boards be held more accountable to parents, have driven new candidates to run for office. Learn who they are.
School boards are an example of how local politics can start a national movement. In Loudon County, Virginia last year, parents pushed back on their board, sparking a change of leadership at the state level, and launching a national movement to empower parents in public schools.
All 100 North Carolina sheriff posts are also up for election this year. With rising crime rates and the challenge of law enforcement recruitment, few elected officials directly impact the individual more than the sheriff.
Because fewer people vote down ballot, each vote has more weight. In May’s Republican primary for House District 115, Pratik Bhakta won with just seven more votes than his opponent Sherry Higgins.
Filling out your entire ballot matters.
Please plan ahead by finding your sample ballot at www.ncsbe.gov/voting/sample-ballot and familiarize yourself with the candidates down the ballot. At Carolinajournal.com we have information on many of these elections and issues, but you can also contact your local party and visit the candidates’ websites for more information.
The early voting period for the 2022 general election begins Thursday, October 20, 2022, and ends at 3 p.m. on Saturday, November 5, 2022.
This opinion piece first appeared in the October / November print edition of Carolina Journal.