The Agenda guide to the 2018 midterm election

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It’s Election Day and North Carolinians will be casting ballots in the widely anticipated midterm elections.

Nationally, Democrats are expecting a “blue wave” that could put the party back in control of the U.S. House. Here at home, Democrats are hoping to break the Republican supermajority in the General Assembly and flip a few Congressional seats blue as well.

But Republicans are pouring money into races that they’d never considered contested before, and voter enthusiasm on the red side is growing as well.

Here’s a quick guide through the choices you’ll be asked to make. Early voting ran October 17 – November 3.

First, make sure you’re registered to vote.

Use this link from the state elections board to double-check.

If you’re not currently registered, you will not be able to vote on Election Day this year. But you can still vote using one-stop early voting from October 17 – November 3. That allows you to register to vote and cast a ballot at the same time. We’ve got more info on early voting later in this piece. Make sure you bring a proof of residence when you go to do it — a driver’s license or utility bill will work.

Next, find out who will be on your ballot.

Nearly every race you’ll be voting on are based on districts, meaning that where you live decides which candidates represent you.

Luckily, there’s an easy way to find out your districts using that same link that you clicked to make sure you were registered. Once you get to your voter profile, there will be a link to your “sample ballot” in the middle of the page.

This will show you exactly which races will appear for you and who’s running. Print it out or just mark down in advance who you want to vote for as you do your research.

You can use these links from the N.C. Board of Elections to find out your districts.

Here’s a breakdown of the key races.

There are hundreds of different permutations of what your ballot could look like, so we won’t get into specifics on every single race. Most of your choices will be guided by your party preferences, though we’ll note when that’s not the case.

U.S. Congress

Charlotte is home to two Congressional races. Most of the city will vote in District 12, currently held by U.S. Rep. Alma Adams.

South and east Charlotte will vote in the 9th Congressional District, the seat currently held by U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger.

Proposed-Mecklenburg-Co-Congressional-Map

12th Congressional District: U.S. Rep. Alma Adams is in a safe Democratic district and will in all likelihood be easily re-elected. She’s been a political powerhouse for the last two terms and is well-respected.

There is a Republican on the ballot, Paul Wright. He’s a former judge who lives almost 200 miles away and files for races just about every year. He hasn’t really campaigned.

9th Congressional District: This race is one of the most closely watched in the entire country.

Charlotte Baptist pastor Mark Harris unseated the incumbent, U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, in the May Republican primary. Harris is a deeply conservative candidate who has aligned himself with President Donald Trump on most issues. He’s pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, has pledged to repeal and replace Obamacare and has pushed for term limits on Congress.

Harris is facing Democrat Dan McCready, a Marine veteran and Charlotte clean energy entrepreneur in his 30s. McCready has raised gobs of money and is campaigning as a centrist, “country over party” candidate and has gained considerable support among independents and even some Republicans. He hasn’t staked out positions on many issues but has repeatedly emphasized collaboration and anti-partisanship.

Polls have this race as roughly a toss-up. If you support pro-life candidates or the Trump agenda, you’ll vote for Harris. If you’re looking for a fresh face or somebody who’s willing to tone down the rhetoric in Washington, you’ll vote McCready.

General Assembly

This is the name North Carolina has for its state legislature, and it’s the most powerful body in government here at home. The General Assembly operates a $20 billion-plus budget that handles public schools, highway and road funding, and Medicare and Medicaid administration. It’s primarily funded through income and corporate taxes.

For the first time in modern history, every single race but one for the N.C. House and N.C. Senate are contested. In 2016, there were 54 uncontested General Assembly races.

Eleven out of 12 House races in Mecklenburg County and all 5 of the county’s N.C. Senate races have challengers.

Mecklenburg’s delegation in the N.C. House is currently made up of 8 Democrats and 4 Republicans. In the Senate, it’s 3 Democrats and 2 Republicans. The only real path for Democrats to break the supermajority in both houses runs through suburban districts like the ones held by Republicans in Mecklenburg County.

In general, you’ll vote for the General Assembly candidate that lines up with your views of how the parties approach state government.

You’ll vote Republican if you support the state GOP’s agenda over the last few years: Lowering taxes, building a $2 billion reserve fund, supporting charter schools and raising teacher pay with an emphasis on early-career educators.

However, Republicans have also come under fire for conducting their business behind closed doors and pushing through bills quickly because the opposition has no chance to influence policy.

You’ll vote Democrat if you feel like the Republicans have misused their supermajority status, if you support expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, if you want to raise taxes to invest more in education, if you want stronger gun control laws, or if you believe Democrats promise that they’d fix gerrymandering should they come back into power.

County commissioner

In Mecklenburg County, we have an unusual setup where the city of Charlotte and the county collaborate on services. The county commissioners oversee the county health department, tax assessing and property revaluation and parks and greenways.

All 9 seats on the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners are up for election this year, sending representatives to a two-year term.

Three commissioners are elected “at-large,” from voters across the county. The other six are elected in districts.

Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners district map

The at-large race is the exact same as it was in 2016. The three incumbent at-large commissioners — Pat Cotham, Trevor Fuller and Ella Scarborough — won the Democratic primary and once again face the same Republican challenger, Jeremy Brasch.

Cotham is a powerhouse in Mecklenburg County and has tremendous crossover appeal among Republicans. She’s been an outspoken advocate for education. Fuller has focused extensively on early childhood education, spearheading an effort to extend 4-year-old preschool to everyone. This type of investment would pay dividends but likely require a substantial tax increase to accomplish. Scarborough led the board as chairwoman in the past term and was widely expected to retire at the end of it.

Brasch is an extreme underdog in this race and has not run a highly visible campaign. He has spoken about using tax incentives to encourage economic development.

Three out of the six district races are contested this year. The three Republicans on the board are all being challenged.

District 1: Incumbent Jim Puckett, a Republican, faces a challenge from Democrat Elaine Powell.

Puckett is a Huntersville resident and a former school board member who supports neighborhood schools and expanding charter schools, opposes the I-77 toll lane project and has supported holding tax rates revenue netural as the county reassesses property values.

Powell is a former chairwoman of the Mecklenburg County Park Commission and a strong advocate for more park funding. Her campaign has focused on bringing more voices into the conversation.

District 5: Incumbent Matthew Ridenhour, a Republican, faces a challenge from UNC Charlotte education professor Susan Harden.

Ridenhour is a Marine veteran and Charlotte native who has campaigned as a pragmatic leader. He has served since 2012 and focused on holding property taxes low while giving teachers pay raises, investing in parks and greenways, and making sure the county’s property tax revaluation process is equitable.

Harden is a first-time candidate who has focused her campaign on education, with the goal of making Mecklenburg County a destination for top teacher candidates. That would involve a large teacher pay increase and other investments in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

District 6: Incumbent Bill James, a Republican, is being challenged by Democrat Susan Rodriguez McDowell.

James has won nearly a dozen terms in office and campaigns as a “consistent conservative.” He has supported the county’s suburban towns in their efforts to start charter schools and has pledged to vote to hold property taxes revenue-neutral.

McDowell is a South Meck High graduate who has campaigned as a fresh face who can represent a changing south Charlotte district. She has campaigned on greater investment in schools.

N.C. Supreme Court

These campaigns are usually low-key, low-information affairs, but this year there’s been a lot of attention paid to the N.C. Supreme Court seat up for election. For the first time in two decades, these elections are partisan.

Justice Barbara Jackson, a Republican, is seeking another 8-year term on the state’s highest court, which is often called on to adjudicate disputes between Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and the Republican-controlled General Assembly. Democrats hold a 4-3 advantage on the court.

Jackson faces Democrat Anita Earls, a Durham civil rights attorney that has the endorsement of former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder. She’s filed motions against Republican policy agenda, including redistricting plans.

Another Republican will be on the ballot as well since there were no party primaries this year (long story). Chris Anglin switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican days before the filing deadline in what most political observers consider to be an attempt to split the Republican vote and propel Earls to victory.

Judging by polling, that’s what is most likely to happen. In fact, Anglin is polling ahead of Jackson at the moment, possibly because of how much media coverage Anglin has gotten.

If you favor a conservative court, you’ll vote for Jackson. If you want a more liberal activist court, you’ll vote for Earls. If you’re a disaffected Republican, you’ll vote for Anglin.

N.C. Court of Appeals

These races are partisan as well, and three seats are up for grabs. Republicans currently control 10 of the 15 seats on this court.

1) Democrat and Gov. Cooper appointee John Arrowood is seeking to hold his seat against Republican Andrew Heath, who worked as a budget director in former Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration.

2) Raleigh appellate lawyer Toby Hampson, a Democrat, faces two Republicans in this open seat. Wake County District Court judge Jefferson Griffin has the backing of the Republican establishment. There’s also another qualified candidate in the race: Wilmington District Court judge Sandra Ray.

3) This is also an open seat. Chuck Kitchen, a Republican, faces Democrat Allegra Collins and Libertarian Michael Monaco, Sr. Kitchen is a Durham attorney who represents public officials and public bodies, including the Town of Holly Ridge. Collins is an appellate lawyer and a professor at Campbell Law School.

Mecklenburg County District Court and Superior Court

The county’s 21 District Court judges used to be elected countywide, but this year will be picked from eight different districts. Some of these races are contested and some are not, but all are partisan this year.

The best resource for evaluating judicial candidates is the guide that the N.C. Bar Association puts out every election cycle. Here’s this year’s.

Below are the contested races.

District 26A, Seat 1: Alicia D. Brooks (Democrat) vs. Michael Stading (Republican).  Both earn high marks from their peers in the bar association’s survey, but Brooks comes out slightly ahead. Brooks is the incumbent, and Stading runs his own law practice.

District 26A, Seat 2: Paulina Havelka (R) vs. Donald Cureton (D). Cureton is the incumbent and Havelka is a defense attorney running her own law practice. Cureton has exceptionally high marks across the board, while Havelka is not well-known.

District 26A, Seat 3: Sabrina Blain (D) vs. Sean Smith (R). Smith was first elected in 2010 and re-elected in 2014. He garnered high marks in the bar survey. Blain is a family law attorney who did not receive high marks, potentially because she is not well-known. Interestingly, both live on Providence Road.

District 26F, Seat 2: Karen D. McCallum (D) vs. Khalif Rhodes (D). McCallum is an assistant district attorney, while Rhodes is the chief magistrate in Mecklenburg County. Both earn high marks, but McCallum’s are slightly higher.

There’s also one contested Superior Court race. Here are the N.C. Bar evaluations for Superior Court races.

District 26C: George Bell (R) vs. Howard L. Clark III (D) vs. Reggie E. McKnight (D). This is an open seat in northern Mecklenburg County. Bell is an attorney in private practice who focuses on criminal defense, family law and real estate-related civil cases. Clark is an Assistant Public Defender in Mecklenburg County. McKnight runs his own law firm that focuses on complex criminal defense. Both Bell and McKnight earn pretty high marks from the bar. Bell slightly edges out McKnight.

Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor

This low-turnout, nonpartisan race has six candidates for two seats. These people sit on a five-member board that deals with things like stream erosion and soil loss.

Barbara Bleiweis is an incumbent, a HOA president and a member of the Charlotte Water Advisory Committee.

Nancy Carter is also an incumbent on the board, a former City Council member and a leader on the NC Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts’ Executive Committee.

Lilly Taylor is an environmental activist who opposes the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Dakota Access Pipeline, and Duke Energy.

Duncan David St Clair III is campaigning as a former U.S. National Park Service ranger.

David Michael Rice is a frequent candidate for political office as a Republican who sometimes refers to himself as “Lord God King.”

Tigress McDaniel is a frequent candidate for political office as a Democrat who has been blocked from filing lawsuits in Mecklenburg County because she’s filed so many of them.

corn-maze-hall-family-farm-charlotte

Constitutional amendments

There are six proposed changes to the North Carolina constitution, made by the General Assembly. Republicans generally favor the amendments, while Democrats oppose them. Here’s a quick breakdown of them.

“Right of the people to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife.” This amendment enshrines in the constitution what is currently prescribed in state law.

“Strengthen protections for victims of crime.” This is known as Marsy’s Law, and is part of a larger national campaign to give crime victims protected rights just like criminals do, like the right to be notified of proceedings involving their case and having the opportunity to speak in court. Some of this is spelled out in state law already, some is not.

“Establish a Bipartisan Board of Ethics and Elections.” Currently, North Carolina has a 9-member elections board with 4 Democrats, 4 Republicans and a ninth member of neither party. Before this year, though, the state had a nine-member board with 5 members of the governor’s party and four from the opposition. This amendment would make it an eight-member board with four from each party, with candidates sent to the governor by the legislature.

“Change the process for filling judicial vacancies that occur between judicial elections.” Instead of having the governor pick judges to replace ones that are leaving, this amendment would create a nominating system that lets people submit names, ranks them, has the General Assembly pick two candidates, and then the governor chooses one of them.

“Reduce the income tax rate.” Currently, the state constitution caps the income tax rate at 10 percent, and this would lower the cap further. North Carolina’s tax rate is currently just under 5.5 percent.

“Require voters to provide voter identification.” This would create a requirement to show ID to vote in North Carolina, though the specifics would have to be hashed out by the General Assembly later.

Municipal bonds

Finally, Charlotte voters will see three bond referenda on the ballot: One for transportation and roads, one for affordable housing, and one for “neighborhood improvements” like sidewalk construction.

The bonds are part of the city’s budget. If the bonds are approved, taxes will not go up. The city is planning to pay for them as part of a quarter-cent property tax increase that already passed this year.

The affordable housing bonds are $50 million, much larger than the $15 million affordable housing bonds that have been previously approved by the voters.

All of the bonds have bipartisan support, and Charlotte’s bonds typically pass. This year, there is some concern that they’ll fail because voters will have heard about the “Nix All Six” campaign against the constitutional amendments and will keep checking no. Make sure you read carefully!

Figure out where you’re going to vote.

Want to vote early? That ran October 17 through November 3.

Thanks to a new state law, you don’t have to memorize complicated early voting times. Each location will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays, and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays.

You can use this site to find the location nearest you.

Here’s the list of early voting sites:

  1. Beatties Ford Library
  2. Bette Rae Thomas Recreation Center
  3. Cornelius Town Hall
  4. Elon Park Recreation Center
  5. Hal Marshall Annex
  6. Hickory Grove Library
  7. Hornets Nest Pavillion
  8. Huntersville Town Hall
  9. Independence Regional Library
  10. Main Library
  11. Marion Diehl Center
  12. Matthews Library
  13. Mint Hill Library
  14. Morrison Regional Library
  15. South County Regional Library
  16. Steele Creek: 11130 South Tryon Street
  17. Sugar Creek Library
  18. University City: 8802 JW Clay Boulevard
  19. West Boulevard Library 

Happy voting!

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Andrew Dunn
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