The Daily Tar Heel

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Thursday September 23rd

N.C. primary season continues as state prepares for abysmal turnout

North Carolina candidates for the United States House of Representatives are expecting low voter turnout during the June 7 primary.

Scheduled after the March 15 primary — which would typically encompass all local, state and federal elections — this second primary date is historically reserved for run-off elections. But after the North Carolina General Assembly was required to redraw some of North Carolina's congressional districts in February due to racial gerrymandering, the election cycle was delayed.

Tracy Reams, director of the Orange County Board of Elections, said the state would be lucky to get a five percent voter turnout in June, compared to the approximately 36 percent who voted during the March primary.

“Those people that do take the time to get out and vote in this congressional primary — those votes are the ones that are going to decide,” she said. “It’ll have a bit of weight to it.”

Michael Cobb, a political science professor at North Carolina State University, said this could put more emphasis on a candidate’s name recognition.

“Anyone that is showing up to vote is probably either a hardcore partisan and knows exactly what they want to do, or someone that knows they are supposed to vote and they’re just going to pick people that they can recognize,” he said.

Teiji Kimball is running for the Republican nomination for the U.S. House for North Carolina’s fourth district, which includes Orange County. He said his campaign is working hard to get voters out to the polls for the June primary.

The newly drawn congressional districts are under review and could be changed again, Kimball said. And as the second primary approaches, concerns remain about North Carolina’s first primary, held in March.

Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, said the N.C. Board of Elections is still reviewing ballots in some counties for various reasons and has yet to conduct the final certification of the results.

In Forsyth County, more than 130 provisional ballots were not counted because they lacked a voter signature, which is required by law. 

This meant in Forsyth County only 33 percent of provisional ballots were counted, compared to the almost 60 percent counted overall during the primary, according to Democracy North Carolina. 

“It happens occasionally that somebody doesn’t sign their form that goes with the provisional ballot, but this scope of hundreds — and particularly where that’s the only issue — I’ve never seen that in that large of numbers, and the state board hasn’t seen that either,” Hall said.

Hall said he hopes the N.C. Board of Elections will review the Forsyth elections, because provisional ballots there lacked a designated signature area and precinct officials did not instruct voters to sign the ballots.

“It’s really wrong to penalize voters for mistakes that were made by election officials,” Hall said.

Hall said Forsyth's three-member board of elections decided to throw out the unsigned ballots. The two Republicans on the board voted to not count the ballots, with the one Democratic board member voting the other way.

Cobb said ballots are thrown out often for commonplace mistakes, but it usually goes unnoticed. 

The ballots thrown out in Forsyth County disproportionately impacted minority voters, Hall said. 

According to Democracy North Carolina, while 30 percent of Forsyth’s voters are African American or Latino, these groups cast 61 percent of the ballots not counted due to a missing signature.

Cobb said minorities seem to be more likely to have their ballots thrown out. Research has attributed this to lower socioeconomic status and unequal enforcement of voting laws, he said.

“People who are less familiar with the process are less likely to be coached on exactly how you cast your ballot, and are just marginally more likely to make mistakes,” he said. “In addition to that, minorities tend to have been disproportionately in areas with poor equipment, poor sets of instructions and uneven enforcement of them.”

Hall points to the case in Forsyth as evidence that human error is a much greater voting issue than voter I.D. fraud.

“The voice of voters must be respected, and you want a system that doesn’t treat them like they’re disposable and trivial,” Hall said. “Something can be done here to honor their choices.”

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