Why are we voting March 5th?

Published February 22, 2024

By Tom Campbell

Can you remember when elections were contests where candidates expressed their political philosophies, told us what they would do if elected and campaigns were civil? I can’t either.
It won’t be long until the March 5th primary election. Some have already voted early instead of having to walk through the gauntlet of political do-gooders handing us propaganda. It is fair to ask why we are voting so dang early when the General Election isn’t until November 5th?
In attempting to solve one problem our legislature created a larger one. The problem, admittedly a big one, was that North Carolina had no real voice in selecting the presidential nominees. By the time we got around to our primary elections in May the nominees had been decided. We had no voice and no choice. This was unacceptable. But the real problem was not the date of our vote but the selection process itself.
Not so many years ago, when political parties had a genuine reason for being, parties initiated the nomination process first at the county level, then at the state convention. State party conventions named delegates to the national convention, instructing them to back a “favorite son” candidate. The national conventions were great entertainment, often filled with suspense about who would win the presidential nomination. Surrogates for the candidates buttonholed delegates and met with state delegations, pleading for support. Impassioned orators made speeches on the convention floor, states cheered for their picks and roll call votes of the states sometimes lasted long into the night. We, the public, viewed on wall-to-wall television coverage. It felt like we were part of the process.
But there was always the accusation that nominees were chosen in smoke-filled rooms by party bosses. More transparency and open participation was demanded. What evolved is a “beauty contest” primary system, where early primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire (no national bellwethers) had too much influence on picking nominees. This isn’t a good process either.
Out legislators’ solution to the problem was to move our primaries from their traditional first Tuesday in May to what is now ridiculously labeled “Super Tuesday.” We’ve barely digested our Thanksgiving dinner before candidates have to file in December to run in March. This is truly March madness.
So how’s that workin’ out for us? With the possible exceptions of Nikki Haley and that Kennedy guy everyone else on planet earth knows the two presidential nominees will be Joe Biden for Democrats and Donald Trump for the cult. We aren’t even paying attention to elections in early March.
With the outcome at the top of the ticket already known, it remains to be seen how many voters will be motivated enough to vote. In the 2022 primary elections only 19.8 percent (1 in 5) registered voters did so in the off-year primary, compared to 31.9 percent in 2020. Just 51 percent showed up for the ’22 general election, a shameful comparison to the 75 percent who voted in 2020.
 Whoever wins the primary has eight months before the November 5th general election. There’s no way you can sustain momentum for that long, so campaigns go dormant, focusing instead on raising money. Consultants tell us that direct mail, TV and radio ad costs have risen to outrageous levels. It is estimated that our 2020 gubernatorial campaign cost some $70 million dollars total for the primary and general election. Projections are this year’s will exceed $100 million. That’s a lot of money to spend when half or less of our 7.3 million voters will likely participate -  $14 or more per voter.
There is no US Senate race this year, but all 14 congressional seats are up for election. Currently we have 7 Republicans and 7 Democrats in our delegation, but the latest round of redistricting was intentionally drawn by Republicans to produce a 10 to 4 plurality for their tribe. Five incumbents chose not to stand for re-election and the 6th, 8th, 10th, 13th, and 14thdistrict seats will elect new representatives. Our elections could determine who controls Congress!
Of our 10 Council of State offices there are six open seats for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Treasurer, Auditor and Labor Commissioner. The remaining four will face election challenges.
There is one Supreme Court and one Court of Appeals seat up for election in 2024. All 120 members of the NC House or Representatives, which has a current ratio of 78 Republicans to 48 Democrats. There are 17 open seats owing to redistricting and retirements. In our 50-member Senate there are 6 open seats in a chamber that currently has 30 Republicans and 20 Democrats.
The point should be clear. Despite the early primary date these elections are important. With so few expected to vote your voice could play a big role in our state’s future.
Go vote!
Tom Campbell is a Hall of Fame North Carolina broadcaster and columnist who has covered North Carolina public policy issues since 1965.  Contact him at tomcamp@carolinabroadcasting.com