If you haven’t voted yet, here’s what you need to know

Posted 10/28/20

Just days remain before the polls close on Nov. 3. But chances are, if you planned to vote during this election season, you’ve already cast your ballot.

As of Tuesday morning, 34,737 Chatham …

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If you haven’t voted yet, here’s what you need to know

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Just days remain before the polls close on Nov. 3. But chances are, if you planned to vote during this election season, you’ve already cast your ballot.

As of Tuesday morning, 34,737 Chatham County votes were already in. With 57,557 registered voters county-wide, that means 60% had already made up their minds with five days still left of early voting.

“I can’t believe how many people have voted already,” said Pandora Paschal, director of Chatham’s Board of Elections. “It’s blowing my mind.”

By day eight this year, the number of ballots cast had already surpassed that of 2016’s entire early voting season.

“In 2016 we voted, I think, just over 30,000 during the whole early voting period including absentee by mail,” Paschal said. “We’ve well exceeded that this year and we haven’t even gotten to the last day of early voting.”

The turnout phenomenon is likely due to two unusual circumstances: a global pandemic and the most contentious presidential race of modern times. As the Washington Post noted on Monday, “the tens of millions of ballots already cast show highly enthusiastic voters are making sure their votes are counted amid a pandemic.”

Concerning rhetoric of voter suppression and fraudulence — much of it coming from President Donald Trump — has cast a pall over the integrity of the voting process. It would seem that many voters came out early anticipating a bungled process. But whatever the impetus, the fact remains: more people have voted by this point in the election season than ever before.

“People have been turning out in records all over the country,” Paschal said.

While she emphasized that the BOE does not involve itself in any kind of political discourse, Paschal conceded that it’s obvious there are fewer undecided voters this year than usual.

“It seems like a great many are not undecided,” she said, “because you can just tell by the turnout.”

In Chatham, a county with already historically strong support of early voting, the deluge of voters has nearly overwhelmed the system.

“It’s been crazy here,” Paschal said. “If we keep voting like we’re voting, we will have voted probably most of our voters (by election day). There probably will be some on election day, but I don’t know how many. I had no idea this many people would vote this early. I knew early voting was popular, but I didn’t know people would come out in droves like this.”

If, however, you are among the dwindling number of registered voters still to have withheld a ballot — and if you don’t already know what names you’re going to check — here’s the lowdown:

U.S. Senate

It’s probably fair to say you don’t need a debriefing on the presidential candidates, so let’s jump right to Congress.

Incumbent Senator Thom Tillis (R) is running for re-election. His only realistic opponent is Democrat Cal Cunningham. (You may also vote for Libertarian Shannon Bray or Constitution Party candidate Kevin Hayes.)

Tillis’ platform emphasizes his accomplishments over a long political career. He was elected as a senator in 2015 having previously served in the House of Representatives since 2006. He is a loyal Trump supporter, and many of his policies are reflective of the president’s.

“All residents deserve a Senator like Thom Tillis who will fight to rebuild the economy and get Chatham County back to work,” Tillis campaign spokeswoman Alex Tilley told the News + Record.

Cal Cunningham, a veteran of the Iraq war and the war in Afghanistan with a law degree from UNC and a Master of Science in public policy from the London School of Economics, hopes voters will identify him as a well-rounded and capable leader despite his short time on the political scene.

“From Siler City and Goldston in the west to Wilsonville and Pittsboro to the east, I’m committed to fighting for the needs of every Chatham County resident,” Cunningham said in an interview with us.

For more in-depth coverage of the U.S. Senate race, check out our exclusive interviews Cal Cunningham and a Tillis spokeswoman in this edition.

N.C. Governor

North Carolina’s gubernatorial race features Democratic incumbent Roy Cooper and Republican challenger Dan Forest, N.C.’s current lieutenant governor. Libertarian Steven DiFiore and Constitution Party candidate Al Pisano are also on the ballot.

Cooper has served as governor since narrowly beating former Governor Pat McCrory in the 2016 race. During his term, Cooper has worked to expand Medicaid, increase teacher pay and add jobs around the state. He has also presided over the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic — a point of emphasis in his campaign as N.C. has managed lower infection and mortality rates than many surrounding states.

Forest, however, has been a vocal critic of Cooper’s leadership through the pandemic. If elected, he hopes to redirect the state’s pandemic navigation. He also lists second amendment rights, pro-life legislation and combating illegal immigration among his primary goals.

DiFiore emphasizes public education reform among the most prominent features of his platform. Improved access to healthcare and decreased housing costs are also important to him.

Chatham County Board of Commissioners

Three of the board’s five seats are up for grabs in this year’s election. The incumbents — Democrats Karen Howard (Dist. 1) and Mike Dasher (Dist. 2) and Republican Andy Wilkie (Dist. 5) — each face opposition.

Howard, Dasher and Dist. 5 challenger Franklin Gomez Flores are running on a shared platform. They prioritize affordable housing, county-wide broadband service and quality public education as the principal features of their plan for the county.

Likewise, the three Republican candidates — incumbent Wilkie along with Dist. 2 candidate Jimmy Pharr and Dist. 1 candidate Jay Stobbs — are campaigning together. They hope to win a Republican majority and enact changes to employment regulation and county budgeting. They have also made restoration of the confederate monument in Pittsboro a central feature of their platform.

Chatham County Board of Education

The BOE has five non-partisan seats. Two are up for re-election this year.

Melissa Hlavac (Dist. 1) has served on the board since 2016. She is associate dean of MBA programs at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. Her goals include reducing the student achievement gap to address equity and raising the school state rankings.

“In this precarious environment, COVID-related decisions are some of the most critical decisions we will render,” Hlavac told the News + Record, “yet we must move forward with the backdrop of ongoing policy setting and guidance that must continue to propel the school district in a positive direction.”

She faces two opponents, Timothy Winters and Ryan Armstrong. Winters hopes to negotiate a larger share of incremental county revenue for education and implement maximum class sizes of 18. Armstrong is running on the Chatham Republican campaign ticket despite the board’s non-partisanship. He maintains that his contributions to the board, if he is elected, will not come from a political agenda.

In Dist. 2, longtime Chatham educator David Hamm is facing opposition for the first time in his last two terms. Continuing to increase the local pay supplement for teachers and prioritizing access to high speed broadband are among his goals. His opponent, Dennis Lewis, says he’ll represent parents better than they have been in the past. Like Armstrong, Lewis is running on the Republican campaign ticket.

N.C. House Dist. 54

Democrat Robert Reives II has served in the state legislature since 2014. His district has most recently included all of Chatham County and parts of Durham. He plans to continue a practice of policy making which he believes has served all of Chatham’s citizens irrespective of party allegiance.

“You hear people always fuss and say they don’t like partisan politics,” he said. “But then you’ll hear things, like I’ve literally heard one person say, ‘You’ve done such good stuff. I really appreciate how you’ve stood for Chatham County and, I mean, man, if you were Republican, I’d vote for you in a second.’ That’s crazy to me.”

Reives’ challenger, George Gilson Jr., is new to North Carolina but believes his conservative beliefs are exactly what Chatham County needs moving forward. Still, he agrees that intensifying division between the two major political parties will not serve constituents.

“Listen, I am conservative and I align myself more with the Republican Party,” he said, “but I think some decisions that the Republican Party have made have been bad for our country and our state. I also think the same on the Democratic side. Sometimes you have to look outside party allegiance and do what’s right for the state and the country.”

N.C. Senate Dist. 23

Democratic incumbent Valerie Foushee faces Republican challenger Thomas Glendinning for the N.C. Senate Dist. 23 seat which covers all of Chatham and Orange counties.

“The first thing I want to do if I am re-elected,” Foushee said, “is continue to work for the expansion of broadband for unserved and under-served areas particularly in Chatham County. I will continue to support investments in education so that Chatham County continues to progress. And I will continue to push for legislation that will keep the environmental aspects of Chatham County — water and air — clean.”

Glendinning’s platform focuses more on zoning legislation.

“This is dear to my heart because it has to do with property rights and personal rights,” he said. “In other words, that you can use your property or the resources around you as you need to. Our two counties (Chatham and Orange) are probably the most strictly zoned and restricted by planning code and zoning code in the state.”

Other Races

• U.S. House of Representatives: Republican incumbent Ted Budd faces Scott Huffman

• N.C. Attorney General: Democrat incumbent Josh Stein faces Republican Jim O’Neill

• N.C. Auditor: Democrat incumbent Beth Wood faces Republican Anthony Wayne Street

• N.C. Commissioner of Agriculture: Republican incumbent Steve Troxler faces Democrat Jenna Wadsworth

• N.C. Commissioner of Insurance: Republican incumbent Mike Causey faces Democrat Wayne Goodwin

• N.C. Commissioner of Labor: Republican Josh Dobson faces Democrat Jessica Holmes. Incumbent Cherie Berry is not on the ballot.

• N.C. Secretary of State: Democrat incumbent Elaine Marshall faces Republican E.C. Sykes

• N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction: Republican Catherine Truitt faces Democrat Jen Mangrum. Incumbent Mark Johnson is not on the ballot after a failed gubernatorial effort.

• N.C. Treasurer: Republican incumbent Dale Folwell faces Democrat Ronnie Chatterji

• There are two uncontested races: Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor J. Lynn Mann and Register of Deeds Lunday Riggsbee.

• Three N.C. Supreme Court races, five N.C. Court of Appeals races and four N.C. Court Judge seats are also on the ticket.


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