Low-key election draws big voter turnout in North Carolina
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — It only took an election with no major statewide races and six constitutional amendments to draw an almost-record number of North Carolina voters to the polls.
A larger percentage of voters cast their ballots in a nonpresidential election year than had been seen since 1990, when a major U.S. Senate race was being fought. They voted in legislative, judicial and congressional races, along with the ballot questions.
Among the bigger-picture issues were whether Democrats deserved more power and voter satisfaction with Republican governance in Raleigh and Washington. And the results were a mixed bag, with the failure of the two constitutional amendments that drew the most Democratic opposition, but GOP victories for at least two of three congressional races viewed as competitive.
State Democrats raised mammoth sums of cash, buoyed by Gov. Roy Cooper’s call to “Break the Majority” of the GOP in both the House and Senate this decade. Appraisals of state Republican control stretched to a state Supreme Court race, where the Democrat won, but the issue she’s challenged previously as a lawyer — photo identification required for voting — became part of the state constitution.
Democrats broke the GOP’s veto-proof margins in the state House and may do the same in the Senate, pending the results of a handful of races in that chamber.
They got at least eight additional seats in the House, giving more leverage to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper to pass his initiatives, such as expanding Medicare and curbing school choice options. As Election Day moved into Wednesday, Democrats had won three of the six seats needed to break the veto-proof margin in the Senate, but led in three more.
Democrats angry with Republican policies on public schools, taxes, the judiciary and social issues had focused on this year’s election as a step toward regaining General Assembly control. All General Assembly seats were on the ballot — 120 in the House, where Republicans held 75 seats, and 50 in the Senate, where the GOP had 35 seats before the election.
Cooper raised at least $7 million for the state Democratic Party, which passed money along to the party’s legislative candidates. Republican campaigns have highlighted the strong economy, passing lower taxes and increasing school spending and teacher raises. While many House Republican incumbents got outraised by Democratic challengers, Senate Republicans fared better.
Voters said no Tuesday to two amendments shifting power to legislators from the governor, while an amendment requiring a photo identification to vote and three others passed.
The other amendments that passed lower the cap on income tax rates; expand crime victims’ rights and enshrine the right to hunt and fish.
The six amendments Republican lawmakers submitted to voters filled the vacuum of having no races for governor or U.S. Senate. Groups for or against the amendments raised well over $20 million, according to campaign finance reports.
Cooper, the Democratic Party and allied groups pushed to defeat all six. The state GOP supported all six, but former Republican governors and the conservative Americans for Prosperity have come out against one or two individual amendments.
North Carolina voters both supported a constitutional amendment for a photo identification for voting and a state Supreme Court candidate who had fought the requirement in court.
Democrat Anita Earls, a longtime civil rights attorney from Durham, raised record campaign money and garnered national attention as she defeated Republican incumbent Justice Barbara Jackson.
Earls led the Southern Coalition for Social Justice when she helped sue over legislative and congressional districts and challenged a voter ID law.
Jackson was seeking a second eight-year term but got waylaid by the late entry of another registered Republican, Raleigh attorney Chris Anglin. He had been a registered Democrat until just before he filed. Democrats now hold five of the seven Supreme Court seats.
As Election Day began, Democrats were hopeful that they would flip three Republican-held congressional seats, but those hopes faded as the votes were counted.
One seat remained uncalled — the south-central 9th District anchored by Charlotte. But Democrat Dan McCready conceded the race late Wednesday to Republican Mark Harris, who upset current Rep. Robert Pittenger in the GOP primary in May. Harris led McCready by less than 1,900 votes with all precincts reporting.
In the 13th District, covering parts of Greensboro and points west to Iredell County, first-term Republican Rep. Ted Budd was able to fend off a challenge by Kathy Manning. In the Raleigh-area 2nd District, three-term GOP Rep. George Holding retained his seat over Democrat Linda Coleman.
Nine other incumbents won, while 3rd District Rep. Walter Jones Jr. faced no ballot opposition.
Republicans would keep their 10-3 seat advantage in the state’s congressional delegation if Harris is declared the winner.
More North Carolina voters went to the polls for this election than in any non-presidential election since 1990, when Republican Jesse Helms and Democrat Harvey Gantt fought for Helms’ U.S. Senate seat.
With all precincts reporting Wednesday, the State Board of Elections web site showed 52.4 percent of North Carolina voters — or over 3.7 million people — cast a ballot in this election, compared to almost 62 percent in 1990.
Early in-person voting levels smashed the previous record high for midterms in 2014 with several days to spare.
The state board counted about 2 million people voting at early-voting sites statewide before they closed Saturday after 18 days of early voting, compared to 1.1 million in 2014, when 10 days of early voting occurred. Overall 2014 election turnout was 44 percent, or 2.9 million voters.
Associated Press writer Gary D. Robertson contributed to this report.