Primary Turnout Will Buck the Trend

I like making predictions.  Part of my job as an attorney is to take all the facts, apply them to my knowledge of the law and the court system, and make a prediction into the future.  This means whittling down uncertainty and eliminating risk.  I often make predictions outside of the office, and my wife would probably tell you that I take myself too seriously, but I feel a sense of reward when my foresight is true.  Who doesn’t like being right?

Some people will tell you that your guess is only as good as your information.  Others like our president will tell you that some people have an ability, a certain instinct or intuition that enables them to make a good prediction.

I hope the following includes both good information and instinct:

Prediction 1:  Cumberland County will see high primary turnout in 2018.

In past primary elections, Cumberland County has lagged behind North Carolina in voter turnout.  2018 has no presidential race, but it’s still an even-year election with many state and local positions up for grabs.  History shows we should expect turnout under 13% in Cumberland this go-round.

cumberland v. nc

2018 will be different: we have a combination of things going on at multiple levels of government that should spur people to the polls.  While we won’t see presidential-year turnout of 25% or more, we should expect a significant increase from the trend.

cc primary

This could equate to thousands in additional votes, and could swing otherwise predictable races.  There are two things that should drive the increase:

Thing 1:  Crowded Race for Sheriff 

There’s a literal free-for-all going on right now in the first election for Cumberland County Sheriff since the retirement of local legend Moose Butler.   Current Sheriff, Ennis Wright, was appointed by the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners to fill Butler’s vacancy and is being challenged by two Democrats, Jeff Marks and Denny Davis.

Four Republicans, many with decades of law enforcement experience, have lined up to try to take the seat:  Charlie Baxley, Larue Windham, Victor Starling, and Carlton Sallie.

There is a lot of under-the-radar campaigning that goes on in these races.  These men are chomping at the bit to get this seat and several have been after it for years.  The Sheriff gets to hire and fire a lot of people, so the stakes are high.  Expect these candidates to get their camps (families, friends, associates) and all with a stake in the outcome to the polls.

Thing 2:  Donald Trump 

I know you’re probably thinking, “It always comes back to Trump, doesn’t it?”  Well, right now it does.  The man has warped the political landscape of this Nation.  He has driven a wedge down the soul of America.  You’re either with him, or you’ll do anything in your power to make a statement in opposition to him, even voting in an election where he’s not on the ballot.

In short, people are engaged (or enraged) as a result of Trump.  This will lead to more votes.

Prediction 2:  North Carolina will see high primary turnout in 2018.

I’ve always considered Cumberland County to be a microcosm of North Carolina’s voting population.  As we go in Cumberland, the rest of the state generally goes.  You can track this correlation every year.

In addition, the political landscape in North Carolina (as a whole) has much in common with Cumberland County in this primary:

Thing 1:  Crowded Legislative Field

Nearly every legislative race in North Carolina is being contested this year.  There are some heated primary battles shaping up across the state.  Senate 21 is an example.   The more candidates that are on the ballot, the greater the potential for turnout.

The North Carolina Legislature is unpopular due to a myriad of mistakes.  Governor Cooper and those in the FlipNC movement are doing their best to capitalize on this unpopularity to take back the legislature.  Simply put, there is more energy and effort this time around.

Thing 2:  Donald Trump

See above.  Minorities and women are fired up in opposition.  Young people have joined in the fray with the March For Our Lives movement in support of gun control.  Individuals on the sidelines are stepping into the fray.  Will this translate to more votes?  It already has in Alabama and Pennsylvania.   It will here in North Carolina.



The one thing that could shove a stick in my spokes is the absence of judicial races in this primary.  The Republican controlled legislature cancelled all judicial primaries in order to make it easier for Republican judges to win in November.  This includes state-wide appellate court and local District and Superior Court races.

Perhaps the Republicans in power made a similar turnout prediction and are trying to hold off a blue wave as long as they can?  We’ll know in a month’s time.


May 8, 2018 will be a litmus test for Democratic enthusiasm heading into November.  Higher turnout can be expected across North Carolina, especially in counties with competitive local races like Cumberland.

I’m a firm believer that if you can get someone to vote for you in a primary, you’ve got a really good chance of keeping that vote in November.  It’s one in the bank.  Expect winning candidates to bank more votes than usual this May.






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