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The 2022 midterm elections are the first of the Biden era. They're also the first since the 2020 census, which means there are new congressional districts. There are U.S. Senate races in the Carolinas as well, along with many state and local races.

In Charlotte, the NC primary includes City Council and county offices. Here's what to know

David Boraks
Bank of America Stadium in uptown Charlotte was used as an early voting site in the 2020 general election.

North Carolina’s primary is May 17. A lot of the attention will be on the congressional races since 2022 is a midterm election year. But there are also important local races on the ballot. That’s especially the case in Charlotte this year, where voters are deciding on both city and county positions.

In some cases, the primary is just as important as the general election. For example, if a particular district overwhelmingly favors Democrats, then it might be a safe bet to assume that whichever Democrat is on the ballot in November will be the winner. With that in mind, you can see how important the primary is — it’s the contest that determines which candidates are on the ballot.

And in Charlotte, Democrats tend to have the advantage in big races. But as WFAE’s Steve Harrison pointed out in his Inside Politics newsletter, Republicans are hoping to make some headway here in 2022.

One big thing to understand about the primaries is that a voter can only vote in one party’s primary. That’s different from the general election when a voter can pick a Republican in one race, a Democrat in a second and a Libertarian in a third. In North Carolina, registered Democrats can only vote in the Democratic primary and registered Republicans can only vote in the Republican primary. Unaffiliated voters can pick which primary they want to vote in, but they have to stick with it.

With that out of the way, let’s take a quick look at Charlotte’s biggest two contests in the primary: City Council and County Commission.

What is Charlotte City Council and why does it matter?

Charlotte is North Carolina’s largest city, and its local elected leaders have a major impact on policies that affect not only the people who live in the city but those who commute to town for work or even those who just come to visit.

Charlotte has a council-manager form of government. That means the mayor and City Council members operate as a board with oversight over city government, but they hire a city manager to act as something of a CEO to actually run day-to-day operations.

That doesn’t mean City Council doesn’t have power. It can make policy decisions, enact ordinances and, importantly, has the final say on the budget that allocates money for city departments and major spending projects. As an example, City Council will have the final say on the pieces of the Charlotte Future 2040 Plan that will guide the city’s growth.

Charlotte’s city government is different than that of Mecklenburg County (which we’ll get to in a bit), but they often work together toward similar goals. Charlotte’s mayor and City Council are elected by people who live in Charlotte city limits only. But representation is broken up in a few ways.

First, the city is divided into seven City Council districts of roughly equal populations. So, every resident has a City Council member who lives in and represents their specific area. Only people who live in those districts can vote for those council members.

There are also four “at-large” seats on City Council. Those seats aren’t tied to any specific district. That means at-large candidates can live anywhere in the city and voters who live anywhere in the city can vote for them.

Mayor is also an at-large position. In Charlotte, the mayor officially represents the city, presides over City Council meetings and can cast votes like other members.

Why is Charlotte City Council in the May 17 primary?

Charlotte’s municipal election was supposed to be held in 2021, but delays in census data pushed it to 2022. So, Charlotte City Council’s partisan primaries are being lumped in with the North Carolina statewide primary on May 17.

But there’s one big difference. In general, the primary lets voters choose candidates who will be on the ballot in the November general election, but Charlotte City Council’s final election will be held months earlier, on July 26. Still, to be clear, the winners of the May 17 primary will be the folks on the ballot in July’s Charlotte City Council race.

Who’s running for Charlotte mayor and City Council?

Mayor Vi Lyles is running for reelection and has three Democratic primary challengers, Tigress Sydney Acute McDaniel, Tae McKenzie and Lucille Puckett. There are also two Republicans in the primary, M. Moustafa and Stephanie de Sarachago-Bilbao.

The Democratic City Council at-large primary will be interesting.

Dimple Ajmera and Braxton Winston are running for reelection. Incumbent District 1 member Larken Egleston is making an at-large bid, and so are former council members James Mitchell, LaWana Slack-Mayfield and Patrick Cannon. Mitchell was a longtime council member who quit in 2021 to run a company that did business with the city; Slack-Mayfield is a former District 3 member who lost an at-large bid in 2019; Cannon is a former mayor who went to prison for corruption while in office.

There are also five Republicans in the at-large primary: Kyle Luebke, David Merrill, Charlie Mulligan, Carrie Olinski and David Michael Rice.

The top four vote-getters from each party will be on the ballot in July.

Districts 1 and 5 are up for grabs with Egleston (1) and Matt Newton (5) running for different jobs. There are three Democrats in the District 1 primary (Danté Anderson, Charlene Henderson El and Billy D. Maddalon) and five in the District 5 primary (Curtis Hayes Jr., Liz Millsaps Haigler, Marjorie Molina, Vinroy Reid and Mark Vincent). Neither races have Republican primaries.

In District 2, incumbent Democrat Malcolm Graham faces two challengers, Kendrick Cunningham and Amar Johnson. In District 3, incumbent Democrat Victoria Watlington faces one challenger, Tiawana Deling Brown. Republicans Mary Lineberger Barnett (2) and James H. Bowers (3) are unopposed in their party’s primary.

In District 6, three Democrats (Stephanie Hand, Rob Hillman and Nancy Wiggins) are running. The winner will face incumbent Republican Tariq Bokhari in July.

In District 7, incumbent Republican Ed Driggs is the only candidate.

What about the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners? What do they do?

Think of the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners like this: a city council for the county, kind of. County commissioners comprise the board that runs county government, including major agencies like the health department. But just like Charlotte, Mecklenburg operates with a council-manager form of government. The board hires a county manager to oversee day-to-day operations. Commissioners can set policies that govern those agencies and unincorporated areas of the county (aka, places that don’t fall within the precise boundaries of cities like Charlotte or towns like Matthews or Huntersville). Commissioners are also responsible for approving the county budget, which can include discretionary spending for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office.

The Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners has nine members — six district-specific members and three at-large members. Unlike with Charlotte City Council, which lets voters choose the mayor, commissioners appoint one of their own to serve as chair.

Who’s running for the Mecklenburg County commission? 

This year, only the at-large, District 2 and District 6 commission races have primaries. The other races only have one candidate each, so they’ll automatically advance to November’s general election.

The Democrats running for at-large seats are Pat Cotham, Jennifer De La Jara, Arthur Griffin Jr., Yvette Townsend-Ingram, Leigh Altman and Trina V. Boyd.

Cotham and Altman are incumbents. If De La Jara’s name is familiar to voters, it’s because she’s currently a member of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board. And Griffin is a former member of the school board.

The top three vote-getters will advance to November along with Republican Tatyana Thulien.

In District 2, Democrats Trina V. Boyd and Angela White Edwards are challenging incumbent Vilma Leake. And in District 6, Republicans Desiree Zapata Miller and Jeremy Brasch will square off for a chance to be on the ballot against incumbent Democrat Susan Rodriguez-McDowell in November.

What other local races are on the ballot?

Two other high-profile races in the primary for Mecklenburg are those for sheriff and district attorney.

Incumbent Sheriff Garry McFadden, a Democrat, is seeking a second term. He’s facing two primary challengers, Aujiena “Gina” Hicks and Marquis Robinson. The Sheriff’s Office has some law enforcement duties, but it’s probably best known in Mecklenburg County for running the jail.

District Attorney Spencer Merriweather, also a Democrat, is seeking a second term. He’s being challenged by Tim Emry in the primary. The DA is Mecklenburg County’s top prosecutor, and the office is responsible for bringing all criminal cases to court.

Neither the sheriff nor the DA race has any Republican candidates running in the primary.

There are also state judicial and General Assembly seats on the ballot for the primary. You can learn more about the primary as a whole link? here

How do you vote in the Charlotte and Mecklenburg County primaries?

There are three main ways to vote in the primary: in person on election day, in person at an early voting site or by submitting a mail-in ballot.

If you’re planning to vote in person on election day, May 17, you must register to vote by April 22. That’s also the registration deadline if you want to vote by mail.

Polling places on election day will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., and anyone in line by 7:30 can still vote. Voters can only vote at their assigned polling place on election day. Mail-in ballots have to be requested by May 10 and postmarked by May 17.

Early voting runs April 28-May 14. Voters will have to cast their ballots in person at any early voting site in their county. They can register on site and vote immediately — even if they missed the April 22 registration deadline.

Where is there more information?

You can find out more information, including how to register to vote, how to check your registration and where to vote at the North Carolina State Board of Elections website. You can also find local information out from the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections. You can also call the state elections office at 919-814-0700 and Mecklenburg’s at 704-336-2133.

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Dash joined WFAE as a digital editor for news and engagement in 2019. Before that, he was a reporter for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia, where he covered public safety and the military, among other topics. He also covered county government in Gaston County, North Carolina, for its local newspaper, the Gazette.