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In many parts of North Carolina, today is Election Day for local leaders, from mayors to city council members. They, in turn, set the local agendas that affect North Carolinians’ daily lives by levying local taxes to pay for policing, public health, housing, garbage pickup or any of the services that keep towns and cities functioning.
Fewer people vote in local elections than in statewide or federal elections, which means that each vote has more power or the potential to alter the outcome of the race.
Over the last several election cycles, only about 15% of registered voters cast ballots in the municipal elections, compared with 75% in 2020’s record-breaking presidential election turnout.
While most municipalities have local elections this year, not everyone lives in a city, town or village, and 35 of those districts rescheduled their elections for 2022. This FAQ will point you to the resources you need to know if your local government is holding an election, what’s at stake, how to know if you are registered and where to vote.
The state’s best resource for election information is the N.C. State Board of Elections, so many of the links in this article will point to places on the board’s website. You can also look up your local elections board if you need additional help casting your ballot.
Is my local government holding an election today?
Across the state, 463 municipalities are holding elections. To see if your local government is holding elections, type your county of residence into the state board’s 2021 municipal voting tool.
I see some elections in my county. Which ones can I vote in?
All the information you need to vote in your local election is on your voter registration page. Put in your information to see if you are registered to vote and to find your voting place. You must be registered to vote to cast a ballot on Election Day. If you are not registered but think it is a mistake the government made, you can cast a provisional ballot.
Not every municipality had the vote-by-mail option for these elections. If yours did and you already voted by mail, you can check the status of your by-mail ballot on your voter registration page, or by signing up for a service through the state board called BallotTrax.
Where do I go to vote, and what are the hours?
Voting sites can change, so even if you have been voting at the same place for years and years, check your polling site on your voter registration page.
Polls are open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., and anybody who is in line by 7:30 p.m. can vote. Because fewer people vote in local elections, there is rarely a line.
Do I need a photo ID to vote in this election?
A few people did not provide proof of identification when they registered to vote. This affects very few potential voters, though it does happen. Most of these potential voters received a notice from their county board of elections that they will need to provide some documentation when they go to vote. The documents could include a photo ID, but even in this situation, a photo ID is not required. A copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or other government document that shows the name and current address of the voter are also acceptable.
How do I know whom to vote for?
Voting is a personal choice. You have the right to keep your vote secret. Walking into the voting booth fully informed about the candidates takes a bit of research. Luckily, more tools are available today than ever before to find information about local politicians.
BallotReady has nonpartisan information about candidates and helps voters create a plan to cast their votes. If you enter your address, the website will give you options to learn about local candidates and create a plan to vote.
Ballotpedia has troves of information on elections at every level, including how local governments work, term lengths for elected officials and often background information on politicians if they have run for office before.
Even with all that information, smaller local elections can fall through the cracks. If that happens, you can search online for the candidate’s website or Facebook page, or see if your local news outlet has a voter guide.
When will we know the results?
At the end of Election Day, poll workers close their voting site and drive the ballots and key election equipment to their county boards of elections, which then count the vote totals. The farther a poll worker has to drive, the longer this process can take.
Most counties will know their unofficial election results pretty quickly after polls close, usually within a couple of hours. The state board will update that data on election night on its website.
In some cases, especially in smaller towns, elections may be so close that a clear winner will be unknown on election night. In such cases, the outcome will be determined in the coming days. In cases of extremely close elections, challenges and recounts could also determine the outcome.
The results on election night are unofficial because some counties can still accept by-mail ballots as long as they are postmarked by Election Day and arrive before 5 p.m. Friday. Counties are also waiting on military and overseas ballots to finish arriving. Then, counties run audits on the ballots and the election process to make sure everything is in order.
This is called the county canvass and takes place the 7th day after municipal elections.
After the county canvasses the election, the results are sent to the State Board of Elections. Only once the state board votes to certify the elections do the results become official.