The weeklong parade of presidential candidates in North Carolina has drawn most attention to the top of Tuesday’s ballot, but each voter in major party primaries across the state also will decide on at least seven other races.
Democrats and Republicans will pick their party’s nominees for governor, U.S. Senate, attorney general and other Council of State races – plus legislative contests where there’s more than one candidate.
Some voters in Wake, Durham, Orange and Johnston counties also will select candidates for county commissioner and school board.
Dozens of statewide and local candidates have struggled to attract voters’ notice amid the excitement of competitive presidential primaries in both major parties.
“We haven’t really seen a contested presidential primary except 2008 on the Democratic side,” said Andy Taylor, a political science professor at N.C. State University. “It’s very difficult for candidates in down-ballot races to know what the effect (of high turnout) is going to be.”
Only a few candidates have been running TV ads, and Taylor says some voters may leave the bottom halves of their ballots blank if they don’t recognize the candidates.
“Breaking through the cacophony of noise around the presidential race is almost impossible,” he said.
Upsets are possible in some races, and some feature candidates that are nearly tied in opinion polls and fundraising numbers.
Here are a few key questions that the election results will answer:
Can the establishment favorites win the U.S. Senate primaries? Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr and Democratic former state Rep. Deborah Ross each face three other candidates.
Ross and Burr have large fundraising advantages and plenty of major endorsements, and have run TV ads. But the other candidates hope to benefit from voters’ appetite for outsiders such as Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.
One of the Democratic Senate hopefuls, Durham businessman Kevin Griffin, endorsed Sanders and spent much of Friday and Monday campaigning at the Vermont senator’s rallies in Raleigh and Charlotte. Another Democrat, Spring Lake Mayor Chris Rey, spoke at a Sanders event Sunday in Greenville.
Ross, meanwhile, has been campaigning on her record from a decade of championing Democratic Party causes in the state legislature. She has lined up endorsements from such groups as Planned Parenthood, EMILY’s List and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
On the Republican side, the best-known challenger to Burr is Cary obstetrician Greg Brannon. He has said he hopes to gain support from supporters of Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
Brannon says his campaign will have volunteers outside polling places “to let the 70 percent of Republican primary voters who say they want an outsider know they have a clear choice in the race for U.S. Senate.”
TV ads for Burr have pointed to his role as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, with a narrator saying that he’s “fighting for the intelligence and tools needed to protect America.”
Will longtime N.C. House Republicans keep their seats? The House Republican caucus had some bitter divisions during last year’s legislative session, as the more moderate leadership clashed with members who are mostly conservatives.
Republican primary voters in several legislative districts are getting a say in that dispute. House Rules Chairman David Lewis of Dunn and senior budget writer Nelson Dollar of Cary both face Republican primary challengers who say the incumbents are not conservative enough.
Lewis and Dollar have had to campaign harder than ever before, with both running TV ads highlighting their efforts to cut taxes and spending.
And Rep. Justin Burr of Albemarle – one of the more conservative legislators, who has strongly criticized House Speaker Tim Moore – is under fire from the N.C. Chamber of Commerce and another political committee from outside his district. The groups are spending money to support his GOP opponent, Lane Burris.
Will Republicans pick a prosecutor or a senator for attorney general? Polls and fundraising reports have shown a near-tie between the two Republican candidates for attorney general, Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill and N.C. Sen. Buck Newton of Wilson.
Both O’Neill and Newton have run TV ads to raise their profiles. O’Neill bills himself as a “tough prosecutor” who “will stand up to Obama and keep us safe.”
Newton’s campaign has stressed his experience on legal matters in the Senate, where he has chaired judiciary committees and authored legislation on gun rights issues and electricity rates.
Whoever wins will offer the GOP its best chance in years to take over the attorney general’s office because incumbent Roy Cooper is running for governor.
Will Democrats favor sweeping changes to the state pension fund? Another close race involves the two Democrats hoping to succeed Janet Cowell as state treasurer.
Cary CPA Ron Elmer says he wants to “fire Wall Street” pension fund managers and oversee the investment portfolio with treasurer’s office employees – a change he says will save millions. The State Employees Association of North Carolina has endorsed Elmer.
But Cowell is backing Elmer’s opponent, attorney and former Wake County Democratic Party chairman Dan Blue III. Blue says state retirees deserve to have the best pension fund managers available, regardless of where they work, and he views Elmer’s plan as risky. Blue has been calling for improvements to the State Health Plan in his campaign.
The winner will face former Employment Security Division leader Dale Folwell, who’s unopposed in the Republican primary.
What you need to know about voting
What time are polls open Tuesday? 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
What times of day can I expect shorter lines? Polls are busiest in the early morning, around lunchtime and in the evening, according to the State Board of Elections. If you’re able to go while 9-to-5 workers are busy on the job, you’ll probably get to vote faster.
How do I find my polling place and a sample ballot? Go to nando.com/votereg and enter your name.
What kind of photo ID should I bring? Poll workers will accept an N.C. driver’s license or DMV-issued ID cards, veterans ID cards, passports, military ID cards or tribal ID cards.
What if my photo ID is expired? Expired IDs are fine if they expired after you turned 70, or if you have a North Carolina driver’s license that expired within the past four years. Otherwise, your ID can’t be past its listed expiration date.
What if my photo ID doesn’t list my current address? That’s fine, unless you’re using an out-of-state driver’s license or ID card. IDs issued by other states are only allowed for voters who registered within 90 days of the election.
What if the name on my ID doesn’t match the name on my voter registration? The names have to be “the same or substantially equivalent,” but the State Board of Elections says that definition includes former names or maiden names, nicknames, initials and variations in spelling.
Do I need to bring the voter registration card I got in the mail? No.
What if I don’t meet the voter ID requirements? You can still vote using a provisional ballot, which will be reviewed and counted after Election Day. But you’ll have to fill out a form explaining why you weren’t able to meet the requirements.
If I vote a provisional ballot, will it count? How will I know? County boards of elections are responsible for reviewing provisional ballots. They’ll be approved unless someone successfully challenges the voter’s eligibility. Provisional voters will be given a PIN they can use online or by phone 10 days after the election to find out whether their vote counted.
Can I choose which party’s primary to vote in? If you’re registered as unaffiliated, you’ll select either a Democratic, Republican, Libertarian or nonpartisan ballot. If you’re registered as a member of a party, you’ll have to vote in that party’s primary.
Should I vote in the congressional primary? Even though a federal court struck down the current congressional districts and ordered the legislature to draw new ones, primaries for the current districts remain on the ballot – and elections officials urge voters to pick a candidate, just in case the legal situation changes. But the results in those races won’t be released, and a separate primary for the new districts is set for June 7.