The empty parking spot at Black Mountain Primary School in eastern Buncombe County on Tuesday, June 7, 2016, is the one reserved for voters in the special election. Jessica Coates / Carolina Public Press

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Predictions of very low voter turnout for special primary elections Tuesday for Congress and North Carolina Supreme Court proved correct, with only about 6.65 percent of registered voters participating, according state elections officials.

North Carolina Board of Elections staff members were well aware of the historic trend of low voter turnout for special elections when they set June 7 for a round of U.S. House of Representatives voting. But following a February federal court ruling throwing out North Carolina’s district map and a special General Assembly session to create a new map, the state had little choice. The December filing period for most North Carolina candidates in federal, state and local elections was long past. The March 15 primary for president and those other seats was just weeks away. So despite inviting an election in which only a tiny fraction of the state’s voters would participate, the June 7 date was set for a second round of primary balloting.

As it happened, the date was also needed for another statewide race, for North Carolina Supreme Court, after a law changing the way incumbent justices seek re-election received an unconstitutional ruling from a state court. Candidates for associate justice were also given a new window of time to file for the one seat on the high court that is up this year.

And now the results, including the anticipated low turnout, are history. (For election results, see below.)

Western North Carolina voter participation varied from county to county. Among the highest turnout was in the area’s most populous county, Buncombe, where voters turned out at just above 10 percent.

But among the lowest was neighboring McDowell County, with less than 5 percent voter turnout. Carolina Public Press talked with precinct judges at two McDowell locations Tuesday afternoon.

Harry Templin, chief judge of the Old Fort No. 2 precinct at Old Fort Wesleyan Church, said he had only seen 11 people out of 1,100 registered come through the precinct. And he didn’t expect many more. Of those 11, two were the mayor and the county register of deeds, Templin said.

McDowell County’s Crooked Creek township precinct judge Jeannie Elliot said voter turnout was actually pretty good considering the lack of publicity about the existence of a primary in that county. About 65 of 2,400 had shown up by mid-afternoon. Of those, about 20 had voted before 9 a.m. and judges wondered for a while if they were done for the day. The result was a far cry from the March primary when more than 800 showed up to vote at the precinct.

Judges at Crooked Creek were reading books and eating lunch, which Elliot described as unusual. Normally the judges don’t have much down time, she said.

The low turnout made for some close results and surprises across the state. In WNC, the Democratic primary for the District 11 congressional seat, which includes most of the state’s westernmost counties, remained too close to call, though Rick Bryson of Swain County held on to a narrow lead of about 300 votes.

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Elsewhere in the state, incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger appeared to narrowly win his Republican primary contest against two challengers on the newly drawn congressional district map, though margin of about 140 votes could be subject to a recount. Meanwhile, Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers became a lame duck as the redrawn map forced her to run against fellow Republican Rep. George Holding in a district where he had better name recognition. Abysmal turnout also produced nail-biter results in the Democratic vote for U.S. House District 13, where Bob Isner held on to a lead of less than 100 votes, less than 1 percent, with several precincts still waiting to report Tuesday night.

Not close was the vote for the state Supreme Court seat, with incumbent Associate Justice Bob Edmunds, a Republican, easily winning 48.06 percent of the vote against two Democrats and an unaffiliated candidate in the nonpartisan primary. Democrat Mike Morgan placed second with 34.32% of the vote and will face Edmunds in November’s general election. Unaffiliated candidate Sabra Jean Faires, who brought the lawsuit that forced the special election, won her case in court but gained little from that victory as she finished a distant third with just 12.03% of the vote.

Local elections

Aside from the top races, several counties also featured local votes or referenda. In Cherokee County, a sales tax measure passed with 65.42 percent of the vote. Jackson County voters also approved a sales and use tax of 0.25 percent with 63.54 percent of voters backing the measure.

A Board of Education vote in Yancey County saw Angie Weatherman win with 1,165 votes, or 61.51 percent, to 729 votes, or 38.49 percent, for Erica Griffith Edwards.

McDowell County election precinct judges (from left) Janet McGinnis, Tina Butler and Jeannie Elliot wait for voters to show up Tuesday, June 7, 2016, at the Crooked Creek Fire Department for the special primary vote. They said the turnout as of mid-afternoon was 65 out of nearly 2,400 registered voters in the precinct, which was still better than they had expected for the extra round of voting made necessary by court rulings earlier this year. Jessica Coates / Carolina Public Press

Unofficial results of the June 7 special primary

Apparent winners are noted with an asterisk (*). Results will be updated.

N.C. SUPREME COURT ASSOCIATE JUSTICE (2307 of 2709 precincts reporting)

(Although the race is officially nonpartisan, the affiliation of candidates is a matter of public record and noted below. With no one exceeding 50% of the vote, the top two candidates will face off in the November election.) 

*Robert “Bob” Holt Edmunds Jr., R-Greensboro (incumbent)     200,861     48.87%
*Michael “Mike” Rivers Morgan, D-Raleigh     137,564     33.47%
Sabra Jean Faires, U-Cary     49,314     12.0%
Daniel Gray Robertson, D-Advance     23,233     5.65%

U.S. HOUSE DISTRICT 5

Democrats (260 of 266 precincts reporting)
*Joshua “Josh” Ethan Brannon, D-Vilas     7,105     47.56%
Charles “Charlie” Ronnie Wallin, D-Boone     4,039     27.04%
James “Jim” Henry Roberts Sr., D-Pilot Mountain     3,795     25.4%

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Republicans (260 of 266 precincts reporting)
*Virginia Ann Foxx, R-Banner Elk (incumbent)    16,728  68.29%
Patricia Margaret Curran, R-Kernersville     7,767     31.71%

U.S. HOUSE DISTRICT 10

Democrats
Carl “Andy” Millard of Columbus ran unopposed in his own party and no primary election was necessary. Millard will face the Republican winner in November.

Republicans (197 of 197 precincts reporting)
*Patrick Timothy McHenry, R-Denver (incumbent)     14,770     78.45%
Jeffrey “Jeff” Dale Gregory, R-Shelby     2,268     12.05%
Jeffrey Ronald Baker, R-Mount Holly     900     4.78%
Albert Lee Wiley Jr., R-Atlantic Beach     889     4.72%

U.S. HOUSE DISTRICT 11

Democrats (281 of 281 precincts reporting)
Fredrick “Rick” E. Bryson, D-Bryson City    9,636    50.75%
Thomas “Tom” Waddell Hill, D-Zirconia     9,351     49.25%

(Due to the close finish of this race, the outcome may not be certain until all remaining absentee and provisional ballots are reviewed a week after the election, as the county boards of election canvass the results. Following that, if the margin separating the two candidates is under 1 percent, the runner-up may be eligible to seek a recount.)

Republicans
Rep. Mark Randal Meadows of Cashiers ran for re-election unopposed in his own party and no primary election was necessary. Meadows will face the Democratic winner in November.

Editor’s note: Jessica Coates also contributed to this report.

Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor is the managing editor of Carolina Public Press. Contact him at ftaylor@carolinapublicpress.org.

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