Jacob Smith, Lecturing Fellow at Duke University, is a guest contributor for the RAISE the Vote Campaign. The views expressed in the posts and articles featured in the RAISE the Vote campaign are those of the authors and contributors alone and do not represent the views of APSA.
On March 3, 2020, North Carolina voters have the opportunity to cast a ballot on Super Tuesday, which is the first big multi-state primary day of the year. While the Tar Heel State traditionally votes at least a few weeks or months later, this year the state will be among the first states after the first four—by tradition, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina—to cast ballots. Given newly-drawn congressional lines and a crowded presidential race, it is important to review the contests and voting procedures that North Carolinians will face this election cycle.
North Carolina is a semi-closed primary. This means that members of a political party, as well as those who do not affiliate with any party (i.e., Independents), may cast ballots in a primary. This means that Democrats and unaffiliated voters—but not registered Republicans—can vote in the Democratic primary.
Given newly-drawn congressional lines and a crowded presidential race, it is important to review the contests and voting procedures that North Carolinians will face this election cycle.
In order to vote, you must register in one of two ways. If you are planning to vote on Election Day, or just want to get your form in, you need to fill out the registration form at least 25 days before the election, or no later than February 7th at 5 pm for this year’s primary. (The North Carolina State Board of Elections describes the requirements for voting in detail and has a copy of the registration form.)
A second option for registration exists if you would like to vote early—that is, cast a ballot before Election Day. Each county sets hours for early voting at specified locations in the county at certain hours where any voter from the county can cast a ballot. Early voters may register on the same day that they cast a ballot, even outside the 25-day window. You can also update your address and vital information, but not your party during the early vote period, if you are already registered.
If you are planning to cast a ballot on Election Day, you should look up your voting location to make sure you know where to vote. These locations sometimes change from one election to another, so it is a good idea to check to make sure you know where you will vote. Polls are open from 6:30 am to 7:30 pm and if you are in line at 7:30, you can vote.
Finally, until a recent court ruling, a photo ID would have been required to cast a ballot in North Carolina starting with this year’s election. However, a federal judge recently blocked this requirement, and state leaders requested on appeal that it not be in effect for the primary so it seems unlikely it will be necessary. However, given that the requirement may be in effect for the general election, it may be good to prepare now. A number of IDs are acceptable including driver licenses, passports, and approved student IDs at many North Carolina colleges and universities. A full list of valid IDs is available on the NC State Board of Elections website.
Now that we’ve discussed how to vote, let’s talk about what will be on your ballot.
North Carolina is the third largest state to have a primary that day for Democrats and Republicans— after only California and New York—so there is sure to be a lot of attention on the race in the weeks leading up to the vote.
The big contest at the top of the ballot is the presidential race, in which there are many candidates representing five parties. Fifteen Democrats, 3 Republicans, 16 Libertarians, 2 Constitution Party candidates, and 1 Green Party candidate filed to appear on the North Carolina ballot. North Carolina is the third largest state to have a primary that day for Democrats and Republicans— after only California and New York—so there is sure to be a lot of attention on the race in the weeks leading up to the vote. That attention is likely to continue even after the primary concludes. As one of the most competitive states in the general election, both the Democratic nominee and President Trump are sure to visit the state to try to win its 15 electoral votes.
While news coverage often focuses on the presidential race, North Carolina ballots also feature a number of other important primaries. Several Democratic candidates—including former State Senator Cal Cunningham (who national Democrats prefer), State Senator Erica Smith, and Mecklenburg County Commissioner Trevor Fuller (among others)—are vying for the chance to take on Republican US Senator Thom Tillis in what is likely to be one of the most competitive Senate races in the country this November.
A number of competitive primaries for both parties exist for the US House. A state court ruled North Carolina’s congressional districts to be an illegal partisan gerrymander under state law, requiring legislators to redraw the congressional map.
A number of competitive primaries for both parties exist for the US House. A state court ruled North Carolina’s congressional districts to be an illegal partisan gerrymander under state law, requiring legislators to redraw the congressional map. You may recall that over the summer, the US Supreme Court ruled that federal courts would not wade into judging whether maps are partisan gerrymanders. However, they left open the option to challenge maps under state laws. Because of the decision, lawmakers drew two new Democratic-leaning districts, one in Raleigh (NC District 2) and one in the Greensboro/Winston-Salem area (NC District 6). Additionally, incumbent Republican Mark Meadows, who represents a seat including Asheville and most of Western North Carolina (NC District 11), decided to retire just before the filing deadline. As a result, North Carolinians will have competitive congressional primaries on their ballots.
Finally, a number of contested races exist for state offices. North Carolina elects ten different officials to state executive offices. That means that voters need to select a Governor, as well as nine other statewide officials ranging from Lieutenant Governor to Labor Commissioner. Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest—as well as State Representative Holly Grange—are seeking the Republican nomination to run against Democratic Governor Roy Cooper. As a result, the Lieutenant Governor office is open and numerous candidates from both parties are seeking that office. Some of the other offices have competitive primaries, while others are uncontested.
The sheer number of contests on the ballot may seem a bit overwhelming at first, but with a little bit of research before stepping into the voting booth, you can make March 3rd a Super Tuesday of voting.
In addition to executive offices, North Carolinians will elect all 120 members of the NC House of Representatives and 50 members of the NC State Senate. Legislators redrew these districts due to a separate court decision. With the map shaken up and some incumbents choosing to retire, there may be a competitive primary where you live. The sheer number of contests on the ballot may seem a bit overwhelming at first, but with a little bit of research before stepping into the voting booth, you can make March 3rd a Super Tuesday of voting.
Jacob Smith is a Lecturing Fellow in the Thompson Writing Program at Duke University. His research focuses on elections, Congress, and public policy.