California is by most measures the bluest state in the country, and there’s rarely any doubt which candidate will win an election, unless it is a primary toss-up between two Democratic hopefuls. People in other parts of the country might view California’s politics to be radical, but for those of us who’ve lived there, the consistency is, frankly, quite boring.
So when I set out for the Morrison Library in November 2018 to cast my first vote in the purple state of North Carolina, a short 36 days after moving to SouthPark, I was excited.
I knew that my new congressional district, the 9th, was made up of a gumbo of political views and that no one could confidently predict what would happen.
The 9th, as you may have heard by now, did not disappoint.
As I maneuvered the stroller into the soft drizzle, I noticed two parallel lines of people, a la Soul Train.
They were campaign workers, party advocates, and to my complete surprise, some were candidates on my ballot.
A judicial candidate hoping to be re-elected somewhat sheepishly handed me a flyer with his face emblazoned on it and asked if he could count on my vote. Now that’s what I call the audacity of hope.
In California, the practice of electioneering – “the visible display or audible dissemination of information that advocates for or against any candidate or measure on the ballot within 100 feet of a polling place, a vote center, an elections official’s office, or a satellite location under Section 3018” – is prohibited.
It seems that North Carolina’s policies on electioneering are considerably more liberal, forgive the irony.
Standing like deacons at a Baptist altar call, more candidates and campaign workers awaited us as we walked toward the line of voters.
In one awkward moment, a candidate was telling me the personal details of his childhood that encouraged him to go into public service when a poll worker emerged and yelled, “New voters – come inside to fill out a form, including you, young lady who brought your baby out in the rain!” Chastened, as if I had somehow summoned the rain myself (never mind that my husband was standing next to me, apparently a passive witness to my crime), I thanked the candidate for his time and wheeled inside.
Back in the car after our votes, my husband and I tried to guess the winner of the congressional race by counting lawn signs in Myers Park and SouthPark – some for former First Baptist Church Pastor Mark Harris and others for U.S. Marine Corps veteran Dan McCready.
We also wondered about the people who stood in line with us. “The lady with polka dots and the grim face: what do you think, is she more likely to vote for a veteran or a pastor?”
We also voted together in 2016, but our wait then was on a palm tree-lined street outside of a Los Angeles elementary school.
There were no candidates or party workers with flyers on each referendum (although that may have been helpful as California notoriously includes a staggering number of propositions). No matter who we wanted to win locally, our individual votes were of small consequence. There was no need to guess how our neighbors voted; we already knew.
Now in North Carolina, we watched as the news trickled in from each polling place. It’s the most interested we’ve ever been in our local race. When Harris, the Republican, was eventually declared the winner by just 905 votes, our vote felt weighty and important.
Alas, North Carolina’s 9th district was not done with us.
Later that month, the state board of elections refused to certify the election results because of accusations of fraud, and the controversy had only just begun.
We had left Hollywood only to have our district be center stage here in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Harris and his campaign spent the next few months denying knowledge of wrongdoing involving political operative McCrae Dowless. But during a hearing in February, Harris’s son, John, testified that he’d warned his father about working with Dowless. (Possibly the most hilarious part, to me, are the emails John wrote in formal, scholarly language and legal jargon, which begin with “Hi Dad, …”) After the hearing, Harris ceded that there should be a new election.
The elections board agreed, and the new primary will take place May 14. If there’s no runoff (a candidate must receive more than 30 percent of the vote in a primary to avoid a runoff), the general election will be September 10. If there’s a runoff, it will take that September 10 slot and the general will be November 5.
This means I’ll be returning to the library to play my role in this soap opera.
The circumstances aren’t ideal, but it’s refreshing to matter.
Don’t we all want our voice to be heard? Don’t we all want to feel a swell of pride in our elected officials, knowing that we put them in office despite the harrowing conditions it took for us to get to the polls? (I’m still getting used to rain, ok?)
I look forward to casting many more votes as a North Carolinian in exciting swing elections, but next time — feel free to hold the scandal. That I could do without.