7 Things To Watch For On Election Day

Nov 8, 2016

The 2016 election cycle will hopefully come to a close tonight. Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump is expected to become the 45th president-elect of the United States. Yet while that divisive race has dominated the airwaves for much of 2016, many other contests hang in the balance on this Election Day.

Voters will also decide who has control of the 115th Congress, North Carolina’s executive mansion, and our state Supreme Court. Here are a few things to look out for throughout the day.

Voter Turnout
During the 17-day early voting period, African-American turnout was down, while a new overall record was established. In total, more than 3.1 million people in North Carolina cast ballots prior to Election Day. The spike, or at least a considerable part of it, can be attributed to unaffiliated voters.

Democratic early voting was down while Republican early votes were up. So what does this all mean? Well, it’s unclear. The unaffiliated surge is made up of young voters and those who have detached themselves from a party in recent years. What we'll have to wait and see is what the breakdown means for the black vote, if it will continue to drop in a post-Obama political landscape or if a drop in enthusiasm just meant African-Americans were less likely to vote early.

Four years ago, turnout was 68.3 percent, down slightly from the record-setting 69.6 percent of voters who came out in 2008.

Ticket Splitting
North Carolina voters have a history of splitting their ballots – voting for both Democratic and Republican candidates. Consider that since 1968, there have been 12 elections in which presidential and gubernatorial choices were on the ticket. In half of those, voters selected a Republican President and a Democratic Governor. (2004, 2000, 1996, 1992, 1980, 1968.)

It is indeed possible that both Hillary Clinton and Pat McCrory deliver victory speeches tonight. It is also conceivable that Donald Trump and Roy Cooper are victors, though if history – and this relatively small sample size is an indicator – that is less likely to happen.

One other note on state-wide federal ticket splitting – think Clinton-Burr or Trump-Ross – it’s less likely. Voters here haven’t split among federal candidates since 1968, when they sent Richard Nixon electoral votes, and Sam Ervin back the U.S. Senate

Urban/Rural Divide
The urban rural divide is one of the subplots that will help to determine who carries the night in North Carolina. Hillary Clinton, and subsequently Roy Cooper, will need strong turnout and large margins of victory in the Triangle and Charlotte regions. Victories for Donald Trump, and/or Pat McCrory, will require large swaths of rural voters.

Four years ago, McCrory was viewed as a moderate, former 14-year mayor of Charlotte. He actually carried left-leaning urban areas, including Wake County (by 7,993 votes), Forsyth County (by 5,618) and Mecklenburg County (by 2,532). Political scientists and strategists expect the Governor to lose those areas on Election Day. The key questions become – by how much, and are there enough votes to gain in rural counties – such as Johnston, Union and Davidson – to make up the difference?
 
Role of Alternate Candidates
Do third party candidates matter? Of course they do, just how much they affect the outcomes in 2016 remains to be seen. It is extremely unlikely that Gary Johnson (Libertarian) or Jill Stein (write-in, Green Party) would somehow defeat Trump and Clinton. But each of these third party candidates will receive votes. So, too, will Lon Cecil, a Libertarian running for Governor and Sean Haugh, a Libertarian in the Richard Burr-Deborah Ross race.

Two years ago, Haugh received more than 100,000 votes in the Kay Hagan-Thom Tillis race. In 2012, Libertarian Barbara Howe received 2.1 percent of the gubernatorial votes.

Libertarians historically pull more votes from Republicans than Democrats. Though there are certainly hardline Libertarian and Green party voters, in this year of discontent, voters disavowing Clinton-Trump, McCrory-Cooper could have a lasting impact, if these races are only decided by a couple percentage points.

Power Shifts: National
Perhaps the only thing more important than perception in the world of politics is power. American politics is largely about messaging, managing expectations and control. Both major parties are vying for power of the White House and the United States Senate on this Election Day.

A Trump win, combined with Republicans maintaining a majority in the Senate would provide the GOP with substantial control when Congress convenes in January. Republicans have a majority in the U.S. House which is expected to hold. A Clinton win, coupled with Democrats picking up at least four seats in the Senate, would give the Democrats an increase in authority.

Under either of these scenarios, it is to be expected that the U.S. Senate would confirm a Supreme Court nominee from the President and the High Court would again have nine justices. Policy is also more likely to flow under these conditions.

However, a Trump presidency combined with a Democratic-controlled Senate; or a Clinton White House and Republican majority Senate could lead to new levels of gridlock. An eight justice court could become the norm, and it’s hard to imagine any significant policy proposal could advance.

Democrats need to carry four additional seats if Clinton wins, or five if Trump triumphs, to take back control of the Senate. Keep an eye on races in Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Indiana and of course, North Carolina, to find out how the Senate will swing. Republican Richard Burr is trying to fend off Democratic challenger Deborah Ross in a race that is considered a toss-up.

Power Shifts: North Carolina
While you watch for outcomes in the federal executive and legislative branches, remember that some power is also up for grabs at the state level. Republican Governor Pat McCrory is hoping his steady, constant presence in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew can overshadow his steady constant defense of controversial House Bill 2 and land him a second term. Democrat Roy Cooper, the state’s attorney general for the past 16 years, has raised more money and held a lead in the polls. But this race is tight, another toss-up.

Republicans are almost certain to maintain majorities in both the House and Senate of the General Assembly. Democrats in the House are hopeful that they can pick up four seats – mainly in Wake and Mecklenburg County – effectively ending a supermajority in that chamber. A Senate supermajority is not viewed as being as vulnerable.

Since 2012 Republicans have ostensibly had political cart Blanche, possessing veto-proof majorities in both chambers. A Cooper win plus House gains would signify a game-changer of sorts in Raleigh, and more moderate policy would be expected over the next two years.

Also, a swing seat on the State Supreme Court will be decided. The bench is made up of seven justices. While the candidates are technically unaffiliated, Bob Edmunds is an incumbent running for re-election. He’s a registered Republican. Mike Morgan is a Superior Court judge, and registered Democrat, who could shift the balance of the court from right to left, if elected.

Is this the end of the 2016 election cycle?
Here's to hoping. Turn on the TV Wednesday afternoon, crack a newspaper Thursday morning and scan that radio on Friday. No more political attack ads. We’re pretty sure those will go away, at least for a while.

If you were wondering about the possibility of a recount (we were) the statute reads as follows:

A candidate shall have the right to demand a recount of the votes if the difference between the votes for that candidate and the votes for a prevailing candidate are not more than the following:

  • (1) For a non-statewide ballot item, one percent (1%) of the total votes cast in the ballot  item, or  in  the  case  of  a  multi-seat  ballot item, one percent (1%) of the votes cast for those two candidates.
  • (2) For a statewide ballot item, one-half of one percent (0.5%) of the votes cast in the ballot item, or 10,000 votes, whichever is less.

The Clinton-Trump, McCrory-Cooper and Burr-Ross races would have to be inside of a 10,000 vote margin. It’s possible. Looking ahead, gridlock could be the political word of 2017.