By Nelda Holder –
Voting officially began in North Carolina on Friday, September 9, when the first mail-in ballots became available to the public—a national first.
Early (in-person) voting is set to begin October 20 (see “Good News for Buncombe County Voters” in this issue), due to an extended voting period recently restored by the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. Then on November 8, national Election Day and the last day of voting, the results will begin to trickle in from the presidential, congressional, and gubernatorial races all across the country.
At the same time, other state and local races will be decided that will determine much about the shape of government here at home. In addition to the more familiar races for state representatives and senators and county officials, there are decisions to be made that will determine how this state is run from important executive and judicial perspectives.
It’s about making choices
Voting is highest in a presidential election year such as this one. In 2012, for example, North Carolina had a total of 7,482,769 voting-age residents. Some 6,639,131 of them were registered to vote, and of those, 4,542,488 actually voted — equaling 68% of those registered (or 61% of the total voting age population).
Going “down ballot” from the presidential ballot slot, the totals and percentages drop. That drop may be more significant in North Carolina this year due to the absence on the ballot of an old voting standby, straight-ticket voting, which was eliminated by the Legislature in 2013. Straight-ticket voting meant that once the presidential choice was marked, signifying either “Republican” or “Democrat” with one additional mark would then result in a straight-party vote down the line of partisan candidates.
Now NC voters must mark their ballot in each individual race, with one exception. There is one nonpartisan race on the state ballot at the NC Supreme Court judicial level. Candidates in the formerly nonpartisan races for the state Court of Appeals are now listed by party, also due to recent legislative changes.
Voting down-ballot is not an onerous task. Depending on your residential location, there should be roughly 30 choices to make—including, if you are an Asheville city resident, deciding on the three general obligation bonds. It takes only a few seconds to bubble in each vote, so going down ballot is really not going to take much of your time… perhaps a couple of extra minutes to have your say in who is to guide the next two years of state government.
Choosing a Council of State
The most recognizable ballot choices are, first and foremost, the President and Vice-president of the United States (with Republican, Democratic, and Libertarian teams on the ballot in NC.) Then come the candidates for U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, and for NC Governor and Lieutenant Governor (both of which also have Libertarian candidates for a three-way race).
Then it gets trickier. We, the people, are obligated to fill a series of executive positions at the state level that includes Attorney General, Auditor, Commissioner of Agriculture, Commissioner of Insurance, Commissioner of Labor, Secretary of State, Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Treasurer. The individuals chosen for these slots will not only manage these state functions but will serve as members of the Council of State, along with the governor and lieutenant governor.
The Council of State, under the original NC Constitution, was elected by the Senate and—at that time—the House of Commons, for the purpose of “advising the governor in the execution of his office.” It served a much more powerful role in colonial North Carolina. Its current role as a council is primarily that of approving certain state functions such as purchase or sale of state property, meeting as a council two to three times a year. The individual members, however, hold numerous executive responsibilities within their elected domains.
Electing the state’s top judges
The electorate is further charged this round with choosing one NC Supreme Court Associate Justice and five NC Court of Appeals judges. (In Buncombe County, there is also an opening for District 28 Court Judge, but there is only one candidate.) In a state of 10 million people, it is not particularly easy to learn about the individuals who take on the responsibilities of these judicial offices. Fortunately, the State Board of Elections has produced a 2016 Judicial Voting Guide, with profiles beginning at page 6. The online version is located at ncsbe.gov.
To review information about the Council of State and the judicial candidates as well, a pending one-stop source is the 2016 North Carolina Voter Guide, created as a public service by Common Cause North Carolina (an independent, non-partisan organization). This guide was not yet available at press time but is due to be published soon. You will be able to find it online at ncvoterguide.org/profiles.
For information regarding registration or voting in Buncombe County, or to have a mail-in ballot sent to you, call Election Services at (828) 250-4200. If you have problems at the polls, call Election Services (250-4200) or call the nonpartisan NC Election Protection Hotline at (866) 687-8683 (866 OUR VOTE).
Nelda Holder is the author of The Thirteenth Juror – Ferguson: A Personal Look at the Grand Jury Transcripts. Read Holder’s blog, www.politicallypurplenc.com