Politics & Government

A recap of North Carolina's primary election results – including some notable upsets

Voters enter the Chavis Community Center in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Tuesday, May 8, 2018.
Voters enter the Chavis Community Center in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Tuesday, May 8, 2018. ehyman@newsobserver.com

Tuesday is election night for primaries in North Carolina's 2018 midterms. Seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and the NC General Assembly and local positions such as county commissioner, sheriff and district attorney are all up for grabs.

Polls closed at 7:30 p.m. This article will be updated throughout the night as more breaking news and election results come in.

The biggest result of the night was Rep. Robert Pittenger, who represents a south-central swath of the state in Congress, losing in the Republican primary to Mark Harris, a Baptist preacher who had challenged Pittenger before.

Harris will now face Democratic challenger Dan McCready, who easily won a primary of his own on Tuesday. National Democrats have flagged that district as one they think they can flip in November.

Challengers upsetting incumbents

The general election isn't until November, but as of 10:30 p.m. Tuesday several current state legislators had already become lame duck incumbents, like Pittenger at the federal level.

In the NC House of Representatives, Raleigh Democrat Duane Hall lost his re-election bid to a relatively unknown newcomer, Allison Dahle. Hall had been a rising star in the Democratic Party before allegations of sexual harassment surfaced earlier this year.

Although he denied harassing women, party leaders called on him to resign. He didn't, but in the end he lost support at the polls. Dahle got more than twice as many votes.

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Other state House members lost in Tuesday's primary, too.

Republican Rep. Justin Burr of Stanley County — a bail bondsman who was leading the legislature's judicial redistricting attempts — lost to pharmacist Wayne Sasser by double digits.

Rep. Beverly Boswell, a Republican from the Outer Banks, was defeated by Bobby Hanig, a Currituck County commissioner. Boswell had made headlines for multiple controversies lately, including false claims that she was a nurse and inflammatory comments about students protesting gun violence.

"One thing is clear — this election showed that truth, integrity, and strong conservative values prevails in the murky, chaotic world of politics," Hanig said in a written statement Tuesday night. "Throughout the campaign, I heard again and again from voters that they want a leader who will listen, and they want a workhorse not a show horse."

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In Charlotte, two Democratic legislators also lost their re-election bids. Sen. Joel Ford was defeated by Mujtaba Mohammed, and Rep. Rodney Moore was defeated by Nasif Majeed. Moore came in third in his race.

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In the state Senate, former Republican Sen. Bob Rucho lost his comeback bid in Iredell County at the hands of a relatively unknown newcomer named Vickie Sawyer.

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But it wasn't all bad news for incumbents.

Republican Rep. Walter Jones, who has represented Eastern North Carolina in Congress for decades, fended off two challengers in Scott Dacey and Phil Law.

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Multiple incumbents in the General Assembly defeated challengers who ran on more moderate platforms.

Sen. Dan Bishop, the Charlotte Republican who sponsored House Bill 2, easily fended off a challenge from Beth Monaghan, who said she was inspired to run because of her opposition to HB2. And three of the most controversial N.C. House members, Republicans Michael Speciale, Larry Pittman and George Cleveland, also all survived challengers who had questioned their style. The three have been behind failed attempts to pass bills like removing the state constitution's prohibition on secession.

Local Triangle races

In local races, two Wake County commissioners lost their seats on the board. John Burns and Erv Portman, two Democrats, lost to Democratic challengers Vickie Adamson and Susan Evans.

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And in Durham, voters opted to completely overhaul the local criminal justice system, voting out the incumbent sheriff and district attorney in their Democratic primaries.

Mike Andrews, the sheriff, lost to Clarence Birkhead in a landslide win for Birkhead, the former Duke University Police chief, who received nearly 70 percent of the vote. And Roger Echols, the district attorney, lost to Santana Deberry in a closer contest.

“We were right that the people of Durham want criminal-justice reform, and they are ready to get about that work,” Deberry said.

In Orange County, voters had a rare general election during what for most statewide voters were primaries. Voters there elected three newcomers to the Orange County School Board and also sent several new faces to the Orange County Board of Commissioners.

See below for earlier updates from election night

Early returns

As of 8:45 p.m., most races still only had their early voting totals reported, and none had all precincts reporting in.

But the early voting numbers were discomforting to several familiar faces in North Carolina politics.

In the Republican primaries for U.S. House seats, most incumbents were faring well. But not Rep. Robert Pittenger, who represents the Charlotte suburbs and was trailing challenger Mark Harris.

Rep. Walter Jones was comfortably ahead in the race for his Eastern North Carolina district despite facing two challengers in a GOP primary, including Phil Law and a well-funded opponent in Scott Dacey.

Republican Rep. George Holding, who represents parts of Wake County and counties to the east, was comfortably ahead in his own primary after early voting. In the Democratic primary to take him on this November, former state legislator and Wake County commissioner Linda Coleman was ahead of her next closest challenger, businessman Ken Romley, after early voting results plus about a third of the district's 142 individual precincts.

In the state legislature, incumbent Democrats like Rep. Duane Hall of Raleigh and Sen. Joel Ford of Charlotte were trailing in the early returns. On the Republican side, Rep. Justin Burr and former Sen. Bob Rucho, who recently moved to Iredell County to run for an open seat there, were also trailing in early voting.

Updates from earlier Tuesday

Errors by poll workers, a shooting and a candidate for sheriff disavowing a racist Facebook post made for a rocky start to Election Day Tuesday, as voters across North Carolina cast ballots in this year's primary elections.

Polls opened Tuesday morning and, in most places, closed at 7:30 p.m. tonight. But in Hoke and Robeson counties, voting hours were extended at two precincts.

In Robeson County, the time to cast ballots was extended by 45 minutes at the Wisharts precinct in Lumberton, located at the Allentown Fire Department, because a car crash nearby interrupted voting temporarily. Voters had until 8:15 p.m. to get in line to cast ballots.

In Hoke County, the time to cast ballots was extended by 15 minutes at at one precinct, where workers Tuesday morning were confused as to what time they were supposed to open and wrongly turned away at least four voters. So voters who are in the Wayside precinct in Raeford had until 7:45 p.m. to cast a ballot.

But in Franklin County, just northeast of Wake County, a similar request for extended voting hours was denied by state officials Tuesday evening.

In that county, voting at a polling place located at a local elementary school had to be temporarily stopped on Tuesday, after the school went into lockdown due to a shooting nearby.

Sonravea Privette, the chairwoman of the Franklin County Board of Elections, said nobody at Franklinton Elementary School or the polling place on campus was harmed. On Tuesday afternoon she said the polling place was closed for about 15 minutes, so the county wanted to extend voting hours an extra 15 minutes tonight to make up for it.

"To make sure no one was disenfranchised, we decided to keep it open the extra 15 minutes to give everyone a chance to vote," Privette said.

However, that decision was not the county's to make, and its request for an extension was denied Tuesday evening by the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement due to a technicality.

State law says that extensions can only be granted if voting was stopped for more than 15 minutes, and the county elections director Lisa Godwick told the state board during an emergency meeting Tuesday evening that voting had been stopped for "15 minutes or less." So the board denied the extension request.

"I don't believe that we have the statutory ability to keep it open," said Andy Penry, the chairman of the state board.

There were also issues reported early Tuesday in Halifax County, on the Virginia border, where unaffiliated voters in Roanoke Rapids reported being turned away by poll workers when they came to vote.

In North Carolina, unaffiliated voters can choose to participate in any party's primary election. But poll workers in Roanoke Rapids were unaware of that rule until being corrected following complaints, according to Kim Strach, the executive director of the state board.

During the meeting, Strach called that "the biggest incident that we've had today" anywhere statewide, although she added that the problem was solved within an hour of the polls opening at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Voters vote at Millbrook Exchange Community Center in Raleigh, North Carolina, during the primary elections Tuesday, May 8, 2018. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

Durham County is frequently the site of election day mistakes and mishaps, but as of 4 p.m. Tuesday the polling places there had reported no issues. However, one candidate on the ballot there had trouble when his official campaign Facebook page egged on a racist commenter.

Durham County Sheriff Mike Andrews, a Democrat who is running for re-election, said he had nothing to do with it and blamed a campaign volunteer.

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Someone named Bobby wrote on Andrews' Facebook page to lament an ethnic "take over" of Durham because "immigrants and minorities will flock to the polls," to which Andrews' official account responded, "Amen Bobby!"

Andrews, who has been sheriff since 2014, is being challenged by former Duke University Police Chief Clarence Birkhead. There is no Republican candidate, so whoever wins this primary will likely be the next sheriff.

Doran: 919-836-2858; Twitter: @will_doran