3 injured at Concord polling place; primary voting continues

slyttle@charlotteobserver.comMay 6, 2014 

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Voting in North Carolina’s primary election was marred Tuesday morning by an incident at a Cabarrus County polling place that left three people injured, two of them critically.

The victims were struck by a car that suddenly went into reverse in the parking lot of Center United Methodist Church.

Concord police said two people were critically injured and the third person’s injuries were not life-threatening. One of the three victims was a poll worker at the precinct. The victims, whose names were not released, were taken to CMC-Northeast.

“Our thoughts are with the injured and all those affected by this tragedy,” said state elections board supervisor Kim Westbrook Strach.

The incident took place about 11 a.m. at the church, in the 1100 block of Union Street South. Police said the driver of a Dodge van suddenly backed up the vehicle and hit a parked Honda. There is no word as to what might have caused the incident.

Elsewhere across the state, a light turnout is being reported on a primary election day that features a handful of closely watched races across North Carolina.

Polls are open until 7:30 p.m. as voters select the candidates who will compete in the general election in November – or, in a few cases, will win election because they won’t face opposition in the fall.

North Carolina’s election is drawing national interest because of a U.S. Senate primary, but also because of changes in voter laws that have drawn both support and criticism.

The highest-profile race Tuesday is the Republican U.S. Senate primary, which has drawn a field of nine candidates.

The top three GOP hopefuls in that race are N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis of Cornelius; physician Greg Brannon; and Mark Harris, pastor at First Baptist Church of Charlotte.

The latest poll gives Tillis 40 percent of the vote, the minimum needed to avoid a runoff election July 15. That same poll had Brannon with 28 percent and Harris with 15 percent.

Tillis has gained support from Gov. Pat McCrory, Brannon from Tea Party activisits like U.S. Sen. Paul Rand, and Harris from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

The winner will face incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan in November. Hagan has two opponents in Tuesday’s primary, but neither of those men has campaigned actively.

Tuesday’s election is the first under a new set of laws adopted by the General Assembly last year. The most controversial of those measures – a requirement that voters bring identification with them to the polls – doesn’t go into effect until 2016.

However, N.C. Board of Elections Director Kim Westbrook Strach said elections officials will have the right to ask voters if they have a form of photo identification. Voters who say they don’t have an ID will be given information on how to obtain it.

But voters today must cast ballots in the precinct where they are registered. In the past, people could vote outside their home precincts, and the votes would be counted as provisional ballots. That no longer is the case.

“We want every voter to fully participate in our democratic process, and that requires appearing at the right polling place,” Strach said.

About 300 volunteers from Democracy NC also are visiting voting places across the state Tuesday, as a result of the new voter laws.

“While everyone has a constitutional right to the ballot, we worry that youth, people of color, and working families will disproportionately encounter barriers as a result of the new legislation,” said Jessica Injejikian, an organizer of the Vote Defender Project.

However, supporters of the legislation said it will discourage voter fraud and help insure that only people who are properly registered will cast ballots.

Nearly 260,000 North Carolina residents participated in early voting, state officials said. That compared to about 173,000 in the 2010 primary electiuon.

Only a few people were on hand when voting started at 6:30 a.m. at Mecklenburg County’s Precinct 76, at Forest Hill Church on Park Road in south Charlotte. Voters said they cast ballots this year in a room considerably smaller than in the 2012 presidential election, and they said there were fewer machines at the site.

Elections officials have estimated a 15 percent voter turnout Tuesday.

While the Republican Senate primary is attracting the biggest attention – and the most money from donors – there are other races of interest Tuesday.

Among them is the GOP primary in N.C. Senate’s 39th District, which is in southeast Mecklenburg County. Incumbent Bob Rucho has drawn opposition from Matt Arnold.

Another race of interest is the Democratic primary in District 2 for the Mecklenburg County board of commissioners. Vilma Leake, a longtime school board member and now county commissioner, faces opposition from Dondhi Burrell.

12th Congressional race

This situation is unusual, because voters actually are casting ballots in two primary elections – one to pick candidates for the July 15 runoff; and the other to pick candidates for the November general election.

U.S. Rep. Mel Watt resigned his seat in Congress after being nominated to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

The July 15 election will pick the replacement for the rest of Watt’s term this year. The November election will select the 12th District congressional representative for the full two-year term.

Most candidates are running in both primary races today.

The Democratic primary for the remainder of the term has drawn five candidates – state Sen. Malcolm Graham; state Rep. Marcus Brandon; George Battle III, general counsel to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board; state Rep. Alma Adams; and attorney Curtis Osborne.

Vince Coakley, a former Charlotte TV news anchor, is alone in the Republican primary.

Candidates in the Democratic primary for the November election are Graham, Brandon, Battle, Adams, Osborne and East Spencer Mayor Rajive Patel.

The GOP primary for the November election is between Coakley and Leon Threatt.

Adams and Graham are considered front-runners in the Democratic races.

Lyttle: 704-358-6107; Twitter: @slyttle

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