The stakes are high in North Carolina’s 2018 elections.
Control of the U.S. House will run through our state, and the General Assembly could be up for grabs. Scores of judicial races are on the ballot, including one for the state’s highest court.
Need to get ready? Here’s a complete guide to voting in North Carolina’s 2018 elections — from making sure you’re registered to figuring out who to vote for.
Election Day is November 6.
Want to head straight for a breakdown of the races? Jump right to Step 4.
Step 1: Make sure you’re registered to vote.
First things first. You can use this site from the State Board of Elections to make sure you’re properly registered to vote and at the correct address.
If you’re not registered to vote, or if you’ve moved, by law you have until 25 days before Election Day to register to vote. That’s October 12 this year.
Don’t put it off because it’s not the most simple process in the world. Here’s the voter registration form, which you’ll need to fill out, print and either mail or hand-deliver to your county board of elections office. You can find all those addresses here.
If you don’t want to do that, you do have one other option: Same-day registration during the early voting period.
Early voting will run from October 17 to November 3 in 2018. Each county is putting together a plan for specifically when and where, though.
You will, however, be able to register to vote and cast your ballot all at the same time. If you miss this window, though, you won’t be able to vote on Election Day if you’re not registered.
Early voting locations and times are still being worked out. You’ll be able to look them up here when they’re approved.
Step 2: Get educated on the issues.
Here’s a mini crash course on the 5 most important issues in the election, as reported by North Carolina voters.
More than a third of the state budget goes to education, so it’s fitting that it’s the top issue in General Assembly races.
Republicans have spent the better part of the last decade enacting their education agenda. They’ve raised teacher pay faster than any other state for two years in a row, with an emphasis on boosting salaries for teachers early in their careers. The General Assembly has also fostered rapid growth in charter schools and created a voucher program to help low-income families afford private or religious schooling.
Democrats argue that North Carolina hasn’t done enough to raise teacher pay, pointing to the fact that the state still ranks toward the bottom in average teacher salary. They’ve also opposed charter schools, saying they lead to racial segregation and criticized state money going to private schools.
[Longleaf story: The impact N.C. Republicans have had on K-12 public education, explained]
At the federal level, Republicans are hoping to enact some type of healthcare reform if they can keep their majorities in the U.S. House and Senate — likely repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act in some fashion. Democrats are interested in pursuing a “Medicare for All” plan. The path to taking control of the House runs through North Carolina, where three Congressional seats could flip.
At the state level, Republicans and Democrats have continued to differ over Medicaid expansion authorized by the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Under GOP control, North Carolina has not expanded Medicaid to cover more people on the lower end of the income scale, despite the promise of 90% funding from the feds. Republicans have said they worry about putting the state budget in jeopardy.
Republicans have also pursued a new way to administer Medicare and Medicaid in North Carolina that incentivizes doctors to prioritize long-term outcomes. Even Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, has supported a lot of these efforts.
Under the Trump administration, there’s also been talk of pursuing work requirements for Medicaid.
[Longleaf story: What’s going on with North Carolina and Medicaid, explained]
North Carolina’s overall economy is booming, but there is still a wide gap between urban areas and the still-struggling rural parts of the state. Outside of the I-85 corridor, the state’s economy still hasn’t recovered from the tectonic shifts that crippled tobacco consumption and moved manufacturing and textile production out of the U.S.
Gov. Roy Cooper has launched an effort to help rural areas better connect with state government to pursue economic development projects.
[Longleaf story: North Carolina’s next political battle is over who gets credit]
Despite the strong economy, wage growth in North Carolina hasn’t kept pace with the national average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And as with most issues, there’s an urban/rural divide here, too.
North Carolina’s minimum wage is still $7.25 an hour, matching the federal standard. Democrats have called for moving this to $15 per hour over a period of a few years.
The General Assembly has steadily cut the income tax rates for both individuals and businesses, and Republicans say this is the catalyst for recent economic growth. Unlike states like Kansas that have tried similar approaches and gotten themselves in a bind, North Carolina has continued to bring in revenue surpluses.
The national GOP has pointed to North Carolina as an analog for the federal tax reform plan that’s been passed but not fully realized.
Democrats in North Carolina have argued that the state should raise taxes and use the money to better fund schools and teacher salaries.
[Longleaf story: North Carolina’s tax cuts, explained]
Step 3: Find out who exactly you’ll be choosing between.
The same site you used to make sure you’re registered to vote will help you here. If you’re registered, this system will tell you which districts you’re in.
You can now also get a sample ballot showing exactly what you’ll be voting on.
The following offices are on the ballot in North Carolina this year:
- U.S. House
- N.C. Senate
- N.C. House
- N.C. Supreme Court
- N.C. Court of Appeals
- N.C. Superior Court judge
- N.C. District Court judge
- District Attorney
Further, there are several county-specific races. In Mecklenburg County, for example, you’ll be voting for county commissioners and the sheriff. Take a look at your sampe ballot.
Step 4: Decide who you’re going to vote for.
While it would be impossible to break down every single race here, I do want to highlight a few important ones where every single vote is likely to matter.
[Longleaf story: 9 N.C. candidates with enough cash to upset an incumbent this November]
2018 is what’s considered a “mid-term” election, meaning it’s the one between presidential races. Generally, these don’t go well for the president’s party, and Democrats are hoping to pick up seats in both the House and Senate.
North Carolina does not have a Senate seat up for election this year, but all 13 House seats are, of course, on the ballot.
Four of them are considered competitive by the Cook Political Report.
In general, you’ll vote Republican if you support the tax cut package passed in late 2017 and/or support the GOP’s efforts to repeal Obamacare.
You’ll vote Democrat if you favor a public “Medicare for all” option, rolling back tax cuts and/or impeachment of President Trump.
These first two are considered Republican-leaning districts but could be up in the air in what’s expected to be a Democratic wave election.
9th Congressional District: Mark Harris (R) vs. Dan McCready (D)
This is an open seat after Harris, a Charlotte Baptist pastor, ousted incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger in May’s primary. Harris is a favorite among social conservatives and has tied himself closely to President Donald Trump, serving as one of his spiritual advisors. He’s also campaigned on “draining the swamp.”
McCready is a Marine veteran and 30-something Charlotte clean energy entrepreneur who has carved out a centrist campaigning style a la Conor Lamb. He describes himself as putting country over party but has been careful about staking out strong policy positions.
A bombshell poll from Civitas in July showed McCready with a 7-point advantage.
13th Congressional District: Rep. Ted Budd (R) vs. Kathy Manning (D)
Budd is finishing up his first term in the House after surviving a massive primary for the newly drawn district. He won in November 2016 with 56 percent of the vote. Budd is a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus that’s fairly close to the Tea Party movement and opposes the Affordable Care Act.
Manning is a Greensboro lawyer, businesswoman, Harvard alum and fundraiser who’s campaigning as a pro-business moderate. She’s extremely well-funded and has a shot in a district that went only narrowly for Trump.
Budd is currently polling in the lead in this district that blends suburban and rural areas, but it’s close.
These next two are “likely Republican,” but have unusually high-profile candidates.
2nd Congressional District: Rep. George Holding (R) vs. Linda Coleman (D)
Holding, a former U.S. attorney, was first elected in the 13th Congressional District in 2012 and won again in 2014. When the General Assembly redrew districts in 2016, the new maps threw Holding together with fellow Republican incumbent Renee Elmers in the new 2nd Congressional District. The district stretches from suburban Raleigh east toward Rocky Mount.
The suburbs are the key battlegrounds in North Carolina, and Holding faces a strong challenger in Linda Coleman. She’s twice narrowly lost a statewide campaign for lieutenant governor to Dan Forest, but edged out a better-funded competitor in the Democratic primary for this race.
Holding is pushing hard for term limits, supporting a bill that would cut a Congressman’s pay after 6 terms.
Coleman has supported the Affordable Care Act and opposed tax cuts.
8th Congressional District: Rep. Richard Hudson (R) vs. Frank McNeill (D)
This is perhaps the longest shot of the four for Democrats. Rep. Richard Hudson won his seat in 2012 after unseating incumbent Democrat Larry Kissell post-redistricting. The Concord Republican won comfortably in 2016 with about 59% of the vote.
Hudson faces Frank McNeill, who runs a family-owned oil and propane business and formerly served as mayor of the town of Aberdeen. He’s from the other side of the district, Moore County, and is also trying to channel “drain the swamp” sentiment by painting Hudson as a Washington insider.
N.C. Supreme Court
Justice Barbara Jackson, a Republican, is seeking another 8-year term on the state’s highest court — which has frequently been called upon to adjudicate disputes between the General Assembly and Gov. Roy Cooper. Democrats currently hold a 4-3 majority on the court.
Jackson faces a Democratic challenger in Anita Earls, a civil rights attorney from Durham. Earls has battled several Republican initiatives in court, including redistricting plans.
In an unusual twist, a third candidate will appear on the ballot. Chris Anglin, a Raleigh attorney, filed as a Republican despite being a registered Democrat earlier in the same month.
The General Assembly later passed a bill that would strip the “R” from his name on November’s ballot, but Anglin successfully challenged it. He will be on the ballot as a Republican.
The N.C. Bar Association has yet to release their ratings for judicial candidates in 2018. You’ll find them here when they’re available.
If you favor a more conservative court, you’ll vote Jackson. If you want a more liberal activist court, you’ll vote Earls.
If you’re a Republican who’s mad that the General Assembly has been messing with judicial elections, you’ll cast a protest vote for Anglin.
N.C. Court of Appeals
There are three races for Court of Appeals seats. Republicans hold 10 of 15 seats in this body.
John Arrowood, a Democrat appointed by Gov. Roy Cooper, is seeking to keep his seat against Andrew Heath, a Republican and former budget director for Gov. Pat McCrory. The governor you favor will likely determine how you vote here.
The second is an open seat after Judge Ann Marie Calabria, a Republican, announced she would retire. The Democratic candidate in this race is Toby Hampson, who leads the appellate litigation practice at Raleigh law firm Wyrick Robbins. He’s been named to several “Super Lawyers” and “Legal Elite” lists.
He faces two Republicans: Jefferson Griffin and Sandra Ray.
Ray is currently a District Court judge in Wilmington, head of Lower Cape Fear Republican Women’s Club and has the endorsement of the North Carolina Trooper’s Association.
Griffin is also a District Court judge, in Wake County, after being appointed by Gov. Pat McCrory. Griffin has the endorsement of the North Carolina Republican establishment, including House Speaker Tim Moore.
Griffin had raised $164,000 midway through the year, compared with only $3,500 by Ray.
If you want Republicans to keep the seat, you’ll vote Griffin.
At the close of filing, every race in the 120-seat N.C. House and 50-seat N.C. Senate was contested. Since then, several candidates have dropped out, but the fact remains — this is the hottest General Assembly election in modern history.
State-level races can’t escape the political dynamics in Washington, and certainly a sizable number of voters will be energized to support or oppose President Trump. That’s one of the main reasons Democrats are hoping for a blue wave election that trickles down to General Assembly races.
But the races will also be a referendum on the Republicans’ time in control of the General Assembly since 2011.
Led by Sen. Jeff Jackson of Charlotte, Democrats hope to pick up a substantial number of seats, potentially enough to break the super-majority that allows Republicans to easily override gubernatorial vetoes.
Republicans are hoping to communicate their policy wins and keep a hold of as many seats as they can.
The case for voting Republican
Republicans took over the levers of government in 2011, in the midst of the worst recession in decades. Under their control, North Carolina climbed its way out of that slump — and today, the state’s economy is booming.
Unemployment is near historically low levels, people are moving here in droves, big companies are choosing to bring jobs here, GDP growth is accelerating and tens of thousands of jobs are being created each year.
Republicans have slashed tax rates for families across the income spectrum and on businesses big and small. Those low corporate tax rates continue to be cited by economic developers as a big draw. And the GOP has done all this while preserving state services.
North Carolina has dramatically expanded school choice for parents, fueled by a boom in charter schools. Teacher pay has rapidly risen, especially for those hard-to-recruit beginning educators.
Voting Republican is a vote to keep taxes low while North Carolina’s economy grows.
The case for voting Democrat
You can’t just chalk up the state’s economic growth to GOP policies. Everything looks good when compared with a near-depression — and in per-capita measures, the current recovery isn’t as strong as it looks.
Meanwhile, Republicans have played hardball politics to consolidate their power — drawing election districts favorable to their candidates and pursuing voter ID laws that disproportionately affect young and minority voters.
Democrats have proposed numerous policy changes should they return to power, including a $15 minimum wage, Medicaid expansion, and ratification of the Equal Pay Amendment strengthening protections for women in the workforce.
Voting Democrat is also a vote to raise taxes and use that money to raise teacher pay and better fund education.
Voters will have 6 proposed constitutional amendments to vote on while at the ballot box this fall. Republicans favor all of them, while Democrats have mounted a campaign to “Nix all six.”
[Longleaf story: 6 N.C. constitutional amendments you will vote on in 2018, ranked]
Most of the amendments are on fairly popular topics. In an unusual twist, though, the amendments do not specify how they’ll be carried out. The General Assembly will come up with the laws that go along with them later, should they pass.
Amendments will not have a caption or number attached to them. You’ll have to read the text to make sure you’re looking at the right one. Here’s a super quick guide.
“Right of the people to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife.” This amendment doesn’t really do a whole lot. It’s fairly symbolic. Some hunting advocates have said it doesn’t go far enough, but it’s mostly intended as red meat for Republican voters.
“Strengthen protections for victims of crime.” Commonly known as Marsy’s Law, these provisions make sure victims are notified of proceedings involving their case and give them the opportunity to speak in court. Nobody has clearly articulated the argument against this amendment, but here’s an attempt from the ACLU.
“Establish a Bipartisan Board of Ethics and Elections.” This one sets up an elections board where no one party has a majority as opposed to the system where the governor’s party runs the show. If this makes sense to you, you’ll vote yes. If you support a stronger governor, you’ll vote no.
“Nonpartisan merit-based system.” This is a long-winded amendment that basically takes away the governor’s ability to appoint judges to fill vacancies on the bench and creates a nominating system that ranks candidates, has the General Assembly pick two candidates, and then the governor chooses one of them. Just like the amendment above, if you support a weak governor, you’ll vote yes. If you support a stronger governor, you’ll vote no.
“Reduce the income tax rate.” This doesn’t lower taxes like it sounds, but it does make sure they stay low. North Carolina’s tax rate is currently around 5.5 percent. The constitution currently caps income taxes at 10 percent. This amendment would lower it to 7 percent. If you don’t want state taxes to be able to go above 7 percent, you’ll vote yes. If you’re worried that this will constrain the government’s ability to raise money to provide services, you’ll vote no.
“Require voters to provide voter identification.” This one is perhaps the most straightforward, though it’s unclear how it would be specifically implemented. If you think people should have to show ID to vote, you’ll vote yes. If you don’t, or if you are worried about a disproportionate impact on young people and minorities, you’ll vote no.
Step 5: Go vote!
You can begin requesting an absentee ballot (voting by mail) starting September 7. Here’s the form.
Early voting begins October 17.
You can find your polling place for Election Day (November 6) here.