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Many Orange County Democrats run unopposed, but that may change soon


Paul Mermin looks over a sample ballot at the Chapel of the Cross church at 304 E. Franklin St. on Oct. 23, 2018. The Chapel of the Cross serves as an early voter location close to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's campus. 

Heated partisan elections will define Election Day in many areas, but some Orange County candidates aren’t feeling the pressure. Tuesday’s ballot includes eight uncontested elections, all controlled by Democrats.

Six of the seats are for county offices, one is for district attorney and the final seat is for N.C. district court judge.

While the Democrats hold these offices, the Republicans struggle to find candidates to challenge them.

“The reason they're uncontested for the county seats is the fact that we found nobody who wanted to run at this time,” said Edward Zapolsky, vice chairman of the Orange County Republican Party. "Nobody stepped up to the plate to fill those posts.”

Bob Joyce, professor of public law and government at UNC, said uncontested races in general elections are common.

Usually, these races are contested in primary elections between members of the same party, but once the candidate wins their party nomination, they move to the general election unchallenged. 

“More typically, you have nominees for both parties, but it certainly happens that one party or the other simply doesn't have a nominee,” said Joyce. “Usually that happens where it seems extremely likely that the nominee of one party or the other will be elected.”

Joyce said Orange County’s strong Democratic presence deters Republicans from running — the odds are just too low. 

For candidates on the ballot, running in a general election uncontested provides benefits beside the obvious advantage of a guaranteed win.

Former Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt’s run for clerk of superior court was contested in the primary election, and he said he appreciates the time that campaigning for the primaries granted him to express his views about the clerk seat.

“I was fortunate to be able to have those conversations in a little less of a cacophonous environment,” Kleinschmidt said. “Right now, it's very difficult to be heard above the din of national and statewide political conversations.”

However, a challenger in the general election would likely have made Kleinschmidt have to work even harder to stand out against a busy political backdrop.

“We'd just carry the conversation into the general election,” Kleinschmidt said. “It wouldn’t change the challenges that candidates would have in trying to be heard above the noise, but a great deal more effort would have to be put into trying to be heard with all the other activity going on.”

Not all people see uncontested elections in a positive light.

Zapolsky said the Orange County Republicans intend to put more Republican candidates on the ballot during the next election and already have a list of people they have deemed fit for the positions.

Though uncontested races are not entirely out of the norm, they used to be even more commonplace.

“From the 1900s to the 1960s, Democrats were so likely to win elections in North Carolina that the real electoral contest in many, many, many, elections for many, many, many offices was in the Democratic primary,” Joyce said. “The general election was a foregone conclusion that the Democrats would win.”

This changes the nature of the race, Joyce said. Because elections were between members of the same party, the contest focused more on personality and experience than partisan views. 

Uncontested seats were the trend in the first half of the 20th century, but North Carolina is far from returning back to its single-party roots, regardless of the way the Orange County ballot appears, Joyce said. 

“There's not a resurgence of that in North Carolina,” Joyce said. “If anything, North Carolina is becoming a two-party competitive state.”


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