Edgecombe County Chief Precinct Judge Ann Adams assists 2020 primary election voters Geraldine Newton and Gloria Smith at the Edgecombe County Administration Building polling place in Tarboro on March 3, 2020. Calvin Adkins / Carolina Public Press’
Edgecombe County Chief Precinct Judge Ann Adams assists 2020 primary election voters Geraldine Newton and Gloria Smith at the Edgecombe County Administration Building polling place in Tarboro on March 3, 2020. Calvin Adkins / Carolina Public Press’

Tuesday is the last day to vote in North Carolina’s primary elections and several local elections. 

Early in-person voting closed on Saturday, and by-mail voters have until Tuesday to get their ballot envelopes postmarked or returned in person by the end of the business day to their county’s board of elections office. 

All others will have to vote at their local precinct Tuesday from 6:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. 

North Carolina is already in “uncharted territory” of high absentee voter turnout, according to Michael Bitzer, Catawba College professor of politics and history. 

Already, almost 8% of the state’s voters have turned in absentee ballots, setting high expectations for total turnout after Election Day.

“If we got up to 20% turnout, that is extremely good for North Carolina in a primary election,” Bitzer said, referring to midterm years. 

Early in-person, by-mail voting and military or overseas voting, which together are called “absentee voting,” have become increasingly common over the last decade, Bitzer said. But historically, voters prefer to cast ballots on election day during primaries. 

Never before has absentee voter turnout been so high in a midterm primary, Bitzer said, making it impossible to predict what the ultimate turnout will be. 

On the flip side, even a record-breaking turnout would mean only two out of 10 voters showed up, Bitzer said, adding that “a lot of folks would say that’s pretty abysmal.” 

Power of the vote 

That low turnout in midterm primary elections means each vote has more relative power. 

Divide turnout between parties, and the relative power of each vote increases even more, according to Chris Cooper, political science and public affairs professor at Western Carolina University. 

“Just raw numbers, your vote has a greater impact,” Cooper said. “You’re also able to truly set the stage for what is going to come in the future. Most general elections are as close to predetermined outcomes as we can get.” 

Only one of the state’s 14 congressional districts is expected to be competitive between Democrats and Republicans come November, and that’s for District 13, Cooper said. 

Sometimes, especially in local races, such as those for sheriff or county commissioner, only one party will present candidates. That means the results in Tuesday’s primary will determine the entire election for those races. 

This year, Republicans did a much better job of fielding candidates for elections across the state and from local to statewide races than Democrats did. They not only ran candidates in more races but ran more candidates in more races, Cooper said. 

That gives voters a choice within the party and gives voters practice voting for candidates in their preferred party, Cooper said. When Democrats, for example, don’t run candidates in rural areas, it reinforces the idea for voters that the party has left that district behind, Cooper said. 

There are still several competitive primary races that will lead to competitive general election races in November. Below, Carolina Public Press lists the major races across the state, with comments from Cooper on why the race matters to political observers and North Carolina voters, no matter which district or county they vote in. 

No matter what happens on Tuesday, Bitzer advises against extrapolating the results to predict what will happen in November. Midterm elections are usually driven by presidential popularity and the state of the economy, both of which are looking bad for President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party. But there is a lot of time between now and November, and a lot can change, Bitzer said. 

“My crystal ball cracked in 2016, and I haven’t gotten that fixed,” Bitzer said. 

U.S. Senate 

Summary: Polling shows the Republican primary is tighter than the Democratic side, but neither race is expected to be close. Republican Ted Budd has the endorsement of former President Donald Trump and the support of a lot of money from the conservative Club for Growth PAC to outpace his conservative rivals, namely former Gov. Pat McCrory and former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker

Though a number of other Democrats are on the ballot with Cheri Beasley, former chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court, the party essentially cleared the way for her to win the primary, much to the chagrin of challengers like Beaufort Mayor Rett Newton

Cooper’s commentary: The likely November race between Beasley and Budd will be interesting because neither candidate has debated or engaged in a very public campaign to date. 

State courts

State Supreme Court

Summary: Though two seats will be filled, there is only one primary. Republican voters will choose among three candidates for one of the seats. 

Both of these Supreme Court seats are currently held by Democrats. Even one win in November would give Republicans control of the state’s highest court. 

State Court of Appeals

Summary: Four of 15 seats are open, though only two of the seats have primaries, again on the Republican side. 

U.S. House primaries 

District 1, Democratic Primary:  

Cooper’s commentary:  Erica Smith served in the state Senate from 2015-21 and finished second in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate seat in 2020. This race will decide whether Smith has a political future. 

District 4, Democratic Primary: 

Summary: Candidates and outside groups have spent more money in this Democratic primary than ever before. The spending has been largely funneled into Valerie Foushee’s campaign by political action committees connected to pro-Israel groups. Foushee’s main opponent is Nida Allam, a Durham County commissioner and the first Muslim woman elected in North Carolina. 

Cooper’s commentary: This race tests the power of money poured into Foushee’s campaign. It pits a more institutional Democrat, Foushee, against a more progressive and younger candidate, Allam. 

District 11, Republican Primary 

Summary: Incumbent and once “rising star” of the Republican Party Madison Cawthorn faces several challenges from fellow Republicans, most notably state Sen. Chuck Edwards.

Cooper’s commentary: It’s “damn near impossible” to find an elected Republican official who still supports Cawthorn. This race is a test of celebrity in politics despite losing the trust of the official party apparatus.  

District 13, Republican Primary 

Summary: Eight candidates are vying for the Republican nomination. To advance outright, a candidate needs to win 30% of the vote. Otherwise, the top two candidates in any North Carolina primary race go to a second primary. 

Cooper’s commentary: Bo Hines is a young politician out of Cawthorn’s mold, no matter how Hines tries to distance himself from Cawthorn. This is another race testing the power of celebrity in politics. It’s also a test of district shopping. Hines has no roots in the district, but for federal races, as long as candidates reside in the state, they can run in any district. 

State legislative races

State Senate District 47, Republican Primary 

Summary: After the N.C. Supreme Court threw out Republicans’ first attempt to draw state legislative maps, they had to try again under state court supervision. The map Republicans came up with and passed on a party-line vote was approved by a three-judge panel. That map double-bunked two powerful and well-liked Republicans in the same Senate district. 

Cooper’s commentary: Deanna Ballard and Ralph Hise are testing the power of geography. As of Friday morning, 36% of voters who cast absentee ballots were from Hise’s old district, and 37% were from Ballard’s old district. The rest was from voters new to either candidate. No matter who wins, Republicans will lose a leader on a state Senate committee. 

State Senate District 18, Democratic Primary 

Summary: Kirk DeViere is the incumbent. Gov. Roy Cooper made the unusual move of endorsing a candidate in a Democratic primary, and he endorsed one of DeViere’s opponents, Val Applewhite

Cooper’s commentary: This election is a test of Cooper’s influence. This is important because the governor in North Carolina has relatively little institutional power. Instead, the governor is seen largely as the head of the party and an agenda-setter for party priorities. Who wins will be an indication of party cohesiveness. DeViere is already known as a Democrat who does not always toe the party line, especially on issues in the budget. 

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Jordan Wilkie is a former Report for America corps member and former reporter at Carolina Public Press. To reach the newsroom, email us at news@carolinapublicpress.org.

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