It’s almost over!

Whether you’re just a regular voter exhausted by the barrage of mailers and TV ads, a candidate nearing the finish line, or a beleaguered volunteer who’s knocked more doors and made more phone calls than you can count, you have reason to breathe a collective sigh of relief: Election Day is tomorrow. Whatever happens after the votes are counted, we’re out of campaign mode on Wednesday.

In Lee County, whether you’ve already cast your ballot during early voting or are planning to go tomorrow, there’s plenty to know before the polls close at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow.

Early voters versus Election Day

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Lee County’s early vote totals through Saturday. Source: http://www.carolinaelections.com

Nearly 13,000 Lee Countians have voted early, which is a huge increase from the early vote period four years ago, and just a hair shy of the nearly 16,000 people total who participated in the 2014 midterm election. That’s per Carolina Elections, which is a project of the right-leaning Civitas Institute.

Voter registration patterns have changed everywhere since 2014, and Lee County is no different, so it’s helpful to look at who’s voted compared to overall registration.

Four years ago, Democrats made up 45.77 percent of our registered voters, and Lee Democrats overperformed their registration by about four points that year. Today, Democrats are 39.75 percent of the electorate, but to date have overperformed their registration by almost six points.

Republican registration has stayed pretty static since 2014, when they made up 28.68 percent of the Lee County electorate (it’s 28.51 percent today) and overperformed their registration by about three points. This year, they’ve overperformed registration by less than two.

Unaffiliated voters have seen the biggest gains since 2014, when they made up 25.2 percent of the electorate and underperformed registration by nearly seven points. In 2018, they make up 31.21 percent of registered Lee County voters, and they’re still underperforming to date, by about seven and a half points. African American voter registration remains pretty static (21.88 percent in 2014 versus 21.08 percent today), but they are overperforming their registration by more than a percentage point, versus 2014, when they underperformed by the same margin.

None of that data tells us how anyone voted though, and there are potentially thousands of people left to mark a ballot tomorrow. As we noted before, participation doesn’t even have to be particularly heavy to surpass 2014’s vote total, so who decides to show up tomorrow, and how many of them, can still have a heavy impact on the final tally.

Election Day voters

If you’ve yet to cast your ballot, make a plan to do so now. It’s your last chance. If you don’t know where your polling place is, the North Carolina Board of Elections website can help you find out.

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Who’s on the ballot in Lee County?

We’re won’t get into the platforms of these candidates (that would take all day), but you should at least know who’s on your ballot. So we’ll link to what we can where appropriate in the hopes that you show up tomorrow as prepared as you can be.

There are two county-wide local races, including for the school board – where Democrats Mark Akinosho (incumbent chairman, a pastor and small business owner), Ophelia Livingston (incumbent, also a preacher and small business owner) and Pat McCracken (challenger, an educator and small business owner) face Republicans Sandra Bowen (incumbent, an educator), Christine Hilliard (challenger, a former teaching assistant), and Pam Sutton (challenger, a former principal) are vying for the top three spots – and the race for sheriff between three-term incumbent Republican Tracy Carter and challenging Democrat Kevin Dodson, a gun store owner and former Siler City police officer. We published an interview with each of the sheriff candidates last week.

Three of four open district seats on the county Board of Commissioners are contested as well (District 1 Commissioner Robert Reives Sr., a Democrat, is running uncontested. You can determine which district you live in at the state Board of Elections website).

In District 2 (Broadway, Deep River, the north half of Carolina Trace, and a part of Sanford along the Hawkins Avenue corridor) incumbent Democrat Tim Sloan, a a small farmer and employee at Pfizer in Sanford, faces former Commissioner Kirk Smith, a retired Army sergeant who’s fairly infamous for a variety of reasons. We hesitated to link to someone’s personal page, but Kirk’s lists himself as a “candidate for the Lee County Board of Commissioners,” so it felt like fair game. Have a look at the type of stuff he posts!

In District 3 (basically everything south of Center Church Road, Tramway Road, and the southern half of Carolina Trace), Democratic challenger Mark Lovick, a former firefighter who owns a carpet cleaning business, faces chiropractor and incumbent Republican Andre Knecht, who’s mostly known for not saying much in meetings (or even offering so much as an apology for posting a racist meme on a local right wing Facebook page).

The District 4 race (essentially the northwest quadrant of the county, including Cumnock, west Sanford, and the Pocket community) is between incumbent Democrat Larry “Doc” Oldham, who is retired from the Lee Paving Company and served on the board from 2008 to 2012 before going back on in 2014, and challenging Republican Arianna Del Palazzo, a 24-year-old financial planner who is the daughter of 2012 commissioner candidate Frank Del Palazzo and claims to be one of the youngest candidates for office in Lee County.

At the state level, Democrat Lisa Mathis, an artist and small business owner, is running a competitive race against incumbent and former pastor Republican John Sauls in a District 51 that includes all of Lee County for the first time since gerrymandering put multiple inner Sanford precincts into a Chatham County district in 2011. The district also includes portions of western Harnett County. Democrat Jean Sivoli, a retired small business owner and chair of the Harnett County Democratic Party, and Republican Jim Burgin, who owns an insurance agency in Harnett County, are facing off for the Senate 12 seat – Lee and Harnett counties, plus a portion of Johnston County – being vacated by three term incumbent Republican Ron Rabin.

2018 is the second cycle in which Lee County is a part of Congressional District 6, which includes several counties to the north, including Chatham, Alamance, Guilford, and others. Incumbent Republican Mark Walker, a Greensboro preacher in a fairly safe Republican district, faces a surprisingly aggressive and well-funded Democratic challenge from Burlington-based 28-year-old business consultant Ryan Watts, who says he is the youngest congressional candidate in the nation.

Recapping the campaigns

Lee County voters have not as many chances to interact with all of the candidates as in past election cycles. Two public candidate forums – one held by the Sanford Herald, another by the Council for Effective Actions and Decisions – were skipped by the vast majority of Republicans on the ballot, save for school board candidates Bowen and Hilliard, who attended both, and Mark Walker, who attended the Herald forum.

Republican commissioner candidates Kirk Smith (left) and Arianna Del Palazzo are interviewed on the local GOP’s campaign television show “Lee County’s Conservative Voice.” The show, which disclaimers indicated was a paid ad, appeared on local station WBFT TV 46.

The Lee County Republican Party did host a “conservative forum” the same night as the Herald’s event, but Democratic candidates were not invited to participate, and attendance required a ticket. The GOP also had what appeared to be paid spots on a local TV station in which their candidates were interviewed by GOP Chairman Jim Womack, and there have been multiple reports of heavy door-to-door efforts by several of them as well.

But participation by most Republican candidates in any campaign activity not directly controlled by the GOP – or in which at the least, different viewpoints were a part of the discussion – seems to have been virtually nil. It’s an interesting electoral strategy that points to a diminished media role in campaigns (several Republican candidates, including Del Palazzo, Smith, and Sutton declined to even be interviewed by the Sanford Herald), and tomorrow’s result will tell us if it worked.

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