Covering politics in North Carolina and beyond, VoterRadio.com is streaming 24 hours a day. Listen live or on-demand.
By Damon Circosta
Published: May 3, 2010
RALEIGH - This is primary election week in North Carolina, although it’s possible you may not have noticed.
So far election 2010 has been pretty quiet. You may have seen a yard sign here or there, and occasionally one of the U.S. Senate candidates will run a television commercial. But you would be hard pressed to find much enthusiasm for the primary election season this year.
Part of the enthusiasm drop is due to the fact that 2010 is much different than 2008 -- the last time we had a statewide primary election. Back then, North Carolina was ground zero for the Democratic presidential primary and both the Republican and Democratic gubernatorial races were being hotly contested. Campaigns were waging pitched television battles and scores of volunteers were in the streets touting their candidates.
When races for offices like governor and senator heat up, it has an effect all the way down the ballot. People running for state legislative seats and judgeships are forced to find ways to educate all of those voters drawn to the polls by the marquee match ups.
This time around, those legislative and judicial candidates have a much different challenge. Rather than competing for attention with the big races, they have to find ways to motivate their supporters to engage in the election.
With such a small percentage of voters showing up to the polls, each vote is proportionally more important. Candidates who can reach the small universe of reliable primary election voters, or convince a small fraction of infrequent voters to show up, will win. It isn’t uncommon to see turnout percentages in the single digits.
In essence we are leaving our government up to the relative few who show up for primary elections.
It’s a shame that more people aren’t paying attention. It might play second fiddle in the public consciousness, but primary election season is possibly more important than the general election. This is due in part to the fact that most electoral districts are drawn in such a way to favor one political party over the other.
True “swing districts” are increasingly rare. Therefore it is in the primary, when both candidates are from the same party, that many races are truly competitive. Real policy differences exist between candidates even if they are running under the same party banner. Now is the time to select the person you think is best qualified to represent you.
One of the more common misconceptions in North Carolina is that if you are an unaffiliated voter -- that is, a voter who does not belong to a political party -- you are shut out from primary elections. This is not so. North Carolina law permits unaffiliated voters to participate in a party primary so long as the political party does not object. The two major parties in North Carolina, Democrats and Republicans, have opened their primaries. Voting in a primary does not wed you to that party’s candidate in the general election.
Early reports indicate that this primary election could have one of the lower levels of voter turnout in state history. Perhaps we are in the midst of a hangover from all of the excitement from 2008. But whether or not we show up during primary election season, our democracy marches on. We shouldn’t let it leave us behind.