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PRIMARY BREAKDOWN: Time to talk politics, primaries and the importance of voting

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“So who do you like in the primary?” Jock asked.

“Well, I really hope Jonathan Barfield wins re-election to the county commission.”

“No, I mean the presidential primary.” Jock amended.

“I don’t know, Jock. Given the news that keeps coming out about foreign interference in the election, I’m having a real crisis of faith.”

“But that doesn’t mean you aren’t going to vote, does it?” Jock confusingly asked.

“Oh, of course I’m going to vote! You can’t not vote—that’s surrender. No, no, no. I just don’t really know how to approach the primary, what to think about it. The point of the primary is not to vote for the candidate you like best, rather the one that has the best likelihood of winning the general election for your party.  At this point, well, I’m not sure who that is.”

I sighed.

“Is our primary earlier this year?” I asked. “Because it feels earlier. Aren’t we usually later than Super Tuesday?”

“I don’t know, did it move?” Jock answered on his way to the fridge for a beer.

North Carolina held its first primary election in 1972. It was quite an election year: George Wallace was shot during the campaign and paralyzed for life. North Carolina Governor Terry Sanford lost his bid for the presidential ticket. Jesse Helms was elected to the US Senate from North Carolina, defeating Nick Galifianakis (uncle to actor  Zach Galifianakis). One of the arguments for holding primary elections is that, by allowing the voters to choose their candidates, it gives more power to the voice of the people and takes power from the party bosses that historically control the political process. Yes, indeed, our primary is earlier than previously held. We have joined “Super Tuesday,” wherein 14 states all hold primary elections on the same day. This came about as a result of a bill that Governor Cooper signed in 2018.

In North Carolina we have what is called “semi-closed” primary elections. So folks registered as a member of a political party will vote in that party’s primary. Unaffiliated voters who aren’t members of a specific party may vote in the primary of their choice—either Republican or Democrat.

So where and how does one vote in a primary in New Hanover County? First: No one has to have a photo ID to vote in the 2020 North Carolina primary. encore has covered the lengthy court battles regarding attempts to require a photo ID at the polling booth. But to rehash, in December a judge blocked the requirement in the primaries. A decision about the general election in November has not yet been reached.

There are several ways to vote:

One-stop or early voting takes place at five locations around the county: Government Center, Suite 34 230 Government Center Dr.; Cape Fear Community College Health Sciences Building, 415 N. 2nd St.; Carolina Beach Town Hall Police Training Room, 1121 N. Lake Park Blvd., Carolina Beach; Northeast Regional Library David E. Paynter Room, 1241 Military Cutoff Rd.; Pine Valley Library Osprey/Pelican Rooms, 3802 S. College Rd. (The Pine Valley Library location replaces New Hanover County Senior Resources Center, which is currently under renovation.) The locations are open Wednesday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. Early voting ends on February 29.

Of course, voting on March 3 means going to your usual polling location. Not sure where that is? Check out the Board of Elections website (  Be aware that if your normal polling location is the New Hanover County Senior Resource Center, on election day, you will vote at John T. Hoggard High School, 4305 Shipyard Blvd.

It looks like 2020 might take the cake as far as exciting election years go. In addition to the Republican and Democratic candidates for the presidency, the Constitution Party, which lists 70 registered voters in New Hanover County, the Green Party, which has 59 registered voters in New Hanover, and the Libertarian Party, which has 1,254 registered voters in New Hanover County, are all holding primary elections. 

The Constitution Party has two candidates for the presidency: Don Blankenship and Charles Kraut. The Libertarian Party has a much more crowded field: James Orlando Ogle, Steve Richey, Kim Ruff, Vermin Supreme, Arvin Vohra, Max Abramson, Ken Armstrong, Dan Behrman, Kenneth Blevins, Souraya Faas, Erik Gerhardt, Jedidiah Hill, Jacob Hornberger, Jo Jorgensen, Adam Kokesh, and John McAfee.  In addition, the Libertarian Party has  a primary race between Ethan Bickley and Anthony Mascolo for NC Senate Seat for District 8, currently held by Republican Bill Rabon. The Green Party only has one person on the ballot for the presidential primary: Howie Hankins.

It might surprise many voters that we have more than two parties on the ballot in this state. After all, the American political system so far in history has run on a two-party system. Ballot access is a big piece of that.

I remember becoming aware of this during the 1992 Presidential election.  Ross Perot announced his candidacy for the presidency as an independent, which meant he and his organization had to get him on the ballot in all 50 states. All have a variety of different requirements for ballot access. I remember my parents discussing the merits (both philosophical and practical) of signing the petition or not for North Carolina.

In the early days of my relationship with Jock, the Libertarian Party actively canvassed for petition signatures to gain ballot access in North Carolina. At the time Jock was not a U.S. citizen, so he couldn’t sign if he wanted to, but I did—even though I pretty much disagree with the entire Libertarian platform.

“No, I understand this is a philosophical thing for you,” Jock commented at the time.

“Yes,” I nodded, and added our short hand reference for Voltaire, which always gets a smile from him.

It’s important to note that in the primaries, candidates who drop out of the race before the printed ballot deadline are removed (i.e. Kamala Harris and Beto O’Rourke). However, if they didn’t withdraw before Tuesday, December 17, their names are printed on the primary ballot. Any votes received by that candidate shall be counted. In other words, if you wanted to protest vote for Corey Booker or Andrew Yang, both of whom dropped in January, you technically could.

In 2017 the North Carolina General Assembly passed a bill that changed the requirements for candidates not affiliated with either of the two major political parties. The signature requirement was reduced for both statewide and district offices, which made it much easier for smaller parties to get ballot access.            

But the two major political parties, the Democrats and Republicans, still receive most of the attention. As such, they have longer tickets with candidates for many state and local offices. Though these offices are not nearly as exciting as the presidency, residents of New Hanover County have seen firsthand how the power of local offices affect  our daily lives. We still do not have safe drinking water. The library redevelopment project still looms. WAVE Transit is a mess, and the fate of the potential hospital sale still hangs in the balance. There are three seats open on the board of the New Hanover County Commission—these are the people who make decisions directly improving or hindering our lives.

“Obviously, the possibility of a sale of NHRMC is a big issue,” I commented to Jock when encore received responses from candidates regarding their position on the hospital sale.

“You think? It’s the major issue,” he responded.

“Well, that and WAVE Transit. Hey, Rickey Meeks is running again! You know, they should appoint him to the WAVE board. He is practically WAVE’S unofficial ambassador—and he surely rides the bus more than anyone sitting on the board.”

Save Our Hospital, Inc.—a nonprofit advocacy group concerned with the future of NHRMC—polled the candidates regarding their position on the proposed sale of NHRMC. Below are the results:


Matt Rhodes                         Do not sell

Bill Rivenbark                      Do not sell

Skip Watkins                        No response

Deb Hayes                             Undecided

Joe Irrera                              No response

Harry Knight                        Do not sell

John Lyon                             Undecided

Frank C. Meares                  No response

Ricky Meeks                         Do not sell


Travis Robinson                   Do not sell

Jonathan Barfield Jr.          Do not sell

Don Betz                                Do not sell

Leslie Cohen                         Do not sell

Kyle Horton                          Do not sell

Steve Miller                          Do not sell

Statewide, Thom Tillis is up for re-election to the US Senate. He faces challengers Paul Wright, Larry Holmquist and Sharon Y. Hudson in the Republican primary.  The Democrats seeking to unseat him include: Erica D. Smith, Steve Swenson, Cal Cunningham, Trevor M. Fuller and Atul Goel.  In U.S. Congress, David Rouzer’s seat is up for re-election. He has no Republican challengers, but the Democrats have three people vying for the seat: Christopher M. Ward, Robert Colon and Mark Judson.

Our current governor, Roy Cooper, has a primary challenger in Ernest T. Reeves.  More interesting, current Lieutenant Governor Dan Forrest has declared himself for the Republican primary for the governor’s seat. His opponent is Holly Grange. The Lieutenant Governor’s office doesn’t get paid as much attention as it probably should. Much like the Vice President of the United States, the lieutenant governor represents the executive branch of the state at functions and can also cast a tie-breaking vote in the NC Senate. With the incumbent looking for higher office, the field to fill the seat is crowded with nine Republicans vying for a spot in the general election: John L. Ritter, Mark Robinson, Scott Stone, Andy Wells, Buddy Bengel, Deborah Cochran, Renee Ellmers, Greg Gebhardt and Mark Johnson. The Democrats have six in the running: Allen Thomas, Bill Toole, Terry Van Duyn, Chaz Beasley, Yvonne Lewis Holley and Ron Newton.

A little more local is the race for District 19 in the NC House of Representatives. With the redrawn legislative maps for the state of North Carolina, the seat’s current holder is Ted Davis. But the new maps have Davis in District 20 (which he is running to keep). Therefore District 19 has no incumbent. Davis has no Republican challenger in the primary for District 20 (Holly Grange is not running for re-election because she is seeking the governor’s seat); however, Marcia Morgan, who ran against him in the 2018 general election (Davis won by 882 votes) is in the Democratic primary again for District 19. This time she faces off with James Dawkins Jr.

The New Hanover County Board of Education has three seats up for grabs this go round, and four Republicans are vying for their party’s candidacy: Pete Wildeboer, Janice Cavenaugh, Frederick Fisher, and Stephanie Kraybill. It seems like a particularly embattled time to want to join the school board, but perhaps a willingness to serve at a time of difficulty is to be applauded.

The bottom line: Primaries are March 3. Please, do your civic duty to our city, state and nation by voting. And then prepare to cast your final votes on November 3, 2020.


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