Early voting is underway for Charlotte’s electoral primaries—it ends Saturday at 1:00 p.m. Then, polls open at 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning and close at 7:30 p.m. in the evening. Local primaries traditionally have dismal turnout. The Mecklenburg County Board of Elections reports that, through Wednesday, about 3,000 people have taken part in early voting, about double the total in 2011, but still less than a tenth of the number in 2012’s presidential primaries.
About six or seven percent of voters usually show up for a local primary like this one, where there are no presidents, senators, or even state legislators on the ballot. Compare that to 35 or 40 percent for primaries in those other years. UNC Charlotte political scientist Martha Kropf says only the most committed voters bother to show up for these local primaries.
“Those with the strongest attitudes, those with the strongest partisanship even,” says Kropf. “Those are going to be the ones to turn out—which is to say not that many.”
Kropf thinks there could be a few more of those this year, after lawmakers in Raleigh drew extra heat for a slew of controversial laws. Still, Mecklenburg County’s Board of Elections estimates 10 percent turnout, and that’s high to make sure polling places can handle capacity. But MeckBOE director Michael Dickerson points out the primaries will decide a number of the races.
“For instance in City Council District 6, there’s a four-way race for the District 6 seat,” Dickerson says, “And you don’t have a Democrat running in November in that district.”
So, whichever Republican wins the primary, wins a seat on City Council, barring a catastrophe. Districts 1, 4, and 5 will be decided by the Democratic primaries. In other words, a third of the council will be decided on Tuesday, probably by a fraction of voters.