Voting is complicated. Before You Vote is a new podcast from The Daily Tar Heel's City and State desk breaking down all you need to know about voting before the 2020 election.
In the fifth episode, City & State Editor Sonia Rao talks to UNC Hussman professor Joe Cabosky about the races down the North Carolina ballot.
Sonia Rao: Voting is complicated, especially for college students, who are often first-time voters, or have just moved to a new county or state.
Voting during a pandemic is even more complicated.
I’m Sonia Rao, the City & State Editor for The Daily Tar Heel. Welcome to Before You Vote, where we’ll be breaking down what you need to know about voting every Tuesday until Election Day.
AD: This podcast is sponsored by Vote America. Reminder: Election Day is November 3. As a North Carolina student you can register now using your campus or home address. You can vote early, you can vote by mail, or you can vote in person on Election Day. Make your plan at VoteAmerica.com/Students.
SR: The election is well underway, and North Carolina has one of the longest ballots in the country.
But what are the races down the ballot? Who’s running, and where do they stand on the issues?
Besides the presidential race, there are many other statewide and local races to vote on.
I talked to Joe Cabobsky, a professor at the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, about N.C. races down the ballot.
Joe Cabobsky: So certainly North Carolina is a purple state through and through. So we're at the epicenter of the presidential race. There are a lot of, of course, indications that we are maybe the closest state out there, or certainly one of them. It may or may not be the deciding state. But I think it's definitely one of the states at the presidential level that most political experts are the most unsure about.
SR: Cabosky said besides the presidential races, North Carolina could also decide the race for U.S. Senate.
JC: Our Senate race will likely decide who controls the senate right now. And there's a really good chance that Republicans or Democrats each get to something like 49, 50, 51. Certainly, if we wake up and it was a blue wave kind of year, Democrats could, you know, win the senate without North Carolina, or Republicans could hold on to the Senate if they do better than expected. But most people think North Carolina is one of the three or four or five key senate states that would decide the election.
SR: There’s also a governor’s race — incumbent Democrat Roy Cooper is facing off against Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest.
JC: Our governor's race is always during a presidential year as well, like this. I think most people think that race is maybe the least competitive of the three. Governor Cooper is generally running several points ahead of other Democrats in those other races. Maybe Maybe not on the Senate side. But overall, the data has been probably best for him. But of course, you know, being an A major governorship has a lot of impacts on the state for the next four years, as well.
SR: But there are other state positions in addition to governor, called council of state positions.
JC: So North Carolina has actually a weaker governorship, or executive branch or at least an executive position in a traditional sense. And part of that reason is that we have, the governor has the ability to appoint, you know, his own cabinet. But the voters of North Carolina also get to decide on several Council of State positions.
SR: Cabosky said these Council of State positions cover a variety of roles in the state.
JC: So these are things, if you're used to seeing our labor commissioner in an elevator somewhere on campus or something like that, it's everything from labor to insurance, to the superintendent of public instruction. And so when you're asking are they are there any swing races, they're they're almost always swing races, just because it's a purple state. And most people honestly don't know too much about those positions.
SR: And he said that because many North Carolinians don’t know much about these smaller statewide positions, the races are often close.
JC: So in a state that's 50/50, those races are often within five points, 10 points max, and so all of them are actually kind of swing races. And we saw in 2016, a lot of those races were decided by thousands of votes. Well, within 1 percent overall.
SR: Cabosky said one of the highest profile races in North Carolina this year is the race for attorney general.
JC: The Attorney General is basically responsible, you know, for a lot of different legal things across the state, a lot of what they do is actually represent the state themselves. So whether that is, you know, civil claims against the state, or state entities, but a lot of times, you're also see, you know, Attorney General's run on the notion that they're working with local jurisdictions, as far as courts and legal processes, you know, they're often pushes to fix or improve things, ranging from doing a better job with things like rape kits, and sexual assault victims, to, you know, different kinds of enforcement policies that might relate to, you know, elements that impact things like local police.
SR: Incumbent Democrat Josh Stein, who won the position by less than one percent of the vote in 2016, is running against republican Jim O’Neill, who currently serves as Forsyth County’s district attorney.
Stein is the co-chairperson of North Carolina’s Task Force for Racial Equity, and in an interview with The Daily Tar Heel, said racial discrimination in criminal justice is the most important issue to him.
Josh Stein: We're having a long overdue reckoning on racism in this country. We have to meet this moment.
SR: Jim O’Neill did not not respond to an interview request from The Daily Tar Heel, but he takes a strong stance against violence towards women and elders. In Forsyth County, he instituted a prosecution program targeting local sex offenders.
He has also been vocal about support of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and subsequent immigration policies.
Another race that Cabosky said will be competitive is the commissioner of labor race.
JC: You might know Cherie Berry from the elevator. So she's her face has been on the elevators in North Carolina for almost 20 years, maybe about 15 or so she is retiring. So that actually will be one of the more competitive races because there are two, you know, non incumbents running. Secretary of Labor works on everything from labor rights, labor issues, safe work environments. So that position, of course, then also has a lot of impacts this year when we're talking about things like COVID.
SR: Democrat Jessica Holmes, who is currently a Wake County commissioner, is running against Republican N.C. House representative Josh Dobson.
In a DTH interview, Holmes said she doesn’t think enough is being done to protect workers during the pandemic, and as commissioner of labor, she would work to enforce the Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act that protects workers from retaliation or termination when making a complaint.
Dobson said he wants to increase communication between the Department of Labor and businesses, and keep workers safe by making sure Environmental Protection Agency-approved cleaning chemicals are used, encouraging workers to report safety concerns and making sure social distancing is implemented.
Cabosky said another highly competitive statewide race this year will be the superintendent of public instruction.
JC : The current Superintendent ran for lieutenant governor in the primary. And last, so there won't be an incumbent in this race either. So that one will be highly competitive around again, they they're basically the superintendent of the state's education system. So you can see the impacts that that would have on state employees or State Teachers, as well as any student that's, you know, part of the public education system here in North Carolina.
SR: Democrat Jen Mangrum, an associate professor at UNC-Greensboro’s School of Education, is running against Republican Catherine Truitt, who is the chancellor of Western Governors University in North Carolina.
When it comes to student debt, Mangrum told the DTH she wants to expand the state’s Teaching Fellows program to more schools in North Carolina, especially HBCUs.
Jen Mangrum: “Teaching Fellows would also be a great way to keep the debt from overcoming people that want to be teachers and commit to North Carolina,” Mangrum said.
SR: Truitt said she wants to bring innovation to traditional universities. She said N.C. needs to rethink how post-secondary education is priced and delivered.
Catherine Truitt: Free college sounds like a great idea, but it does nothing to lower the cost of a college education, which has skyrocketed in the last 20 years.
SR: The Commissioner of agriculture in North Carolina is in charge of agricultural and consumer services.
JC: They do everything from running the state fair every year to, most importantly, they just, they're all kind of in the name on all these positions. So agriculture works to not only make sure that they're safe and sustainable food within the state, some of that office is about the promotion of agriculture.
SR: This year,democrat Jenna Wadsworth, who is a member of the Wake County Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors, is running against incumbent republican Steve Troxler, who has held the position since 2005,
JC: He's also an incumbent and has been in for quite a while, he normally wins by a few points more than some of the others to get in just because of that incumbency.
SR: Wadsworth told The Daily Tar Heel that she believes cannabis legalization could be an opportunity for N.C. farmers that could also bring money to the state’s budget.
Jenna Wadsworth: I've talked to farmers, whether they're Republican, Democrat, Independent, they’re excited about the opportunity. And it's also an opportunity, an economic opportunity, for our cities and counties that have experienced major budget shortfalls as a result of COVID-19.
SR: Troxler did not respond to an interview request with the DTH, but has said in other interviews that rather than hemp, he believes the next emerging crop in N.C. is stevia or purple carrots.
There are other council of state positions on the ballot, such as lieutenant governor, commissioner of insurance and secretary state. Besides these positions, Cabosky said North Carolinians will be able to elect statewide and district judges.
JC: There are actually a lot of Judge races this year. First of all, there are, we're talking about a couple different things when you're talking about judicial races, there are a lot of seats up for the Supreme Court. So there are also then the appeals courts. So the Supreme Court of North Carolina is the highest race, they of course, get the ultimate decision, just like the Supreme Court of the United States, but you also get to vote on appeals court positions.
SR: Besides the state supreme court, there are lowel level appeals courts that Cabosky said have the ability to change or here caes from a local trial court.
JC: So you know if you were convicted of something, and Chapel Hill, you will have your local trial court or district court, hear it. And then if you need to appeal, it goes to the appeals court. So you get to vote on those. But then you also get a vote in North Carolina on the Supreme Court. And then depending on where you live, there, you have the ability to also vote on your district court judges.
SR: Cabosky said while these races usually get less attention, they’re important.
JC: They absolutely matter. Just as you see all the attention on the US Supreme Court. We don't vote on the appeals court, you know, as at the federal level, you as a citizen don't vote for the supreme court at a personal level, but you vote for the senators, right who get to make the recommendation and that you get to vote for the president who gets to do the appointment. But here in North Carolina, you actually get to vote directly for our supreme court and appeals court judges.
SR: To see a full list of who you’ll be voting for, you can find a sample ballot at your county Board of Elections website.
You can also go to www.dailytarheel.com/section/voting to see The Daily Tar Heel’s voter guide that profiles candidates down the ballot from U.S. Senate to Orange County Board of Commissioners.
There are two days left until early voting starts. There are 14 days left to request an absentee ballot. And there are 21 days left until election day.
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If you have any questions about voting you’d like us to answer, you can send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This episode was produced by Meredith Radford, and reported on by Kayleigh Carpenter.
Maria Morava, Audrey Selley and Emmy Trivette contributed reporting.
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