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Politics
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.

North Carolina’s 2022 primary is May 17. Here’s what to know

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North Carolina is holding a statewide primary election on Tuesday, May 17, 2022. Here’s what you should know.

What’s a primary?

When you go to vote in a general election, you’ll notice that there’s usually only one candidate per political party for each office. In the 2020 general election, for example, North Carolina’s gubernatorial race had two major party candidates, Democrat Roy Cooper and Republican Dan Forest. But in many cases, far more than one Democrat and one Republican want to be their party’s nominee. Primaries let voters narrow the field ahead of the general election. So, each party’s top vote-getter in the primary will go on to the general election ballot in November.

Which parties are represented in the primary?

In North Carolina, the Democratic, Libertarian and Republican parties have candidates in the primary.

Which offices are on the ballot?

Statewide, races on the primary ballot include Congress, the North Carolina General Assembly, the state Supreme Court and the state Court of Appeals. Most counties around Charlotte also have Superior and District Court judges on the ballot.

Here’s a quick look at what other races are on the primary ballot in the Charlotte region.

  • Mecklenburg County: Charlotte mayor, Charlotte City Council, county Board of Commissioners, clerk of court, sheriff, district attorney.
  • Gaston County: county Board of Commissioners (Gastonia, Riverbend and Dallas townships), sheriff, clerk of court, Kings Mountain City Council, district attorney.
  • Cleveland County: county Board of Commissioners, district attorney, Board of Education, clerk of court, sheriff, Kings Mountain City Council. 
  • Lincoln County: district attorney, county Board of Commissioners, Board of Education, clerk of court, register of deeds, sheriff, Lincolnton mayor, Lincolnton City Council.
  • Iredell County: county Board of Commissioners, clerk of court, register of deeds, sheriff, Iredell-Statesville Schools Board of Education, Mooresville commission (wards 3 and 4), Statesville mayor, Statesville City Council (at-large and wards 2, 3 and 5).
  • Catawba County: district attorney, county Board of Commissioners, clerk of court, sheriff, Hickory mayor, Hickory City Council (wards 4-6), Long View mayor, Long View Council (wards 2 and 5). 
  • Cabarrus County: district attorney, county Board of Commissioners, clerk of court, sheriff, Kannapolis City Schools board (area 1). 
  • Rowan County: district attorney, county Board of Commissioners, clerk of court, register of deeds, sheriff, Kannapolis City Schools board (area 1).
  • Union County: district attorney, county Board of Commissioners, county Board of Education, clerk of court, sheriff. 
  • Anson County: district attorney, county Board of Commissioners (districts 2, 4 and 5), county Board of Education (at-large and districts 2, 4 and 5), clerk of court, sheriff. 
  • Stanly County: district attorney, county Board of Commissioners, county Board of Education (at-large and District 1), clerk of court, sheriff. 

Who can vote in the primary?

Anyone who is registered to vote in North Carolina can vote in the primary. But there are some restrictions. People who are registered with a specific political party can only vote in that party’s primary. A registered Republican, for example, can only vote in the Republican primary.

There’s a big exception. Unaffiliated voters can pick which party’s primary they want to vote in. But — and it’s a big but — they can only pick one. So, for example, an unaffiliated voter who wants to weigh in on the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate and the Republican primary for their local U.S. House contest can’t do both. If they choose to vote for a Democratic Senate candidate, they’ll only be able to vote for other Democrats in the primary.

That’s different from a general election, where any registered voter can vote for anyone on the ballot.

Why are primaries important?

It could be tempting to skip voting in a primary because, technically, races aren’t officially decided until the general election months later. But primaries offer voters a chance to elevate candidates who most reflect their preferences.

But there are other reasons primaries are important.

In some cases, certain contests are almost guaranteed to favor one party. Let’s look at Charlotte City Council, for example. The last time a Republican won an at-large seat (meaning one that represents the entire city instead of just one district) on the council was in 2009. So while there’s always a chance that a Republican could pick up an at-large seat in the general election, Democrats have the advantage. That means that whichever candidates come out on top in the Democratic primary are also likely going to be the winners in the general election. In other words: In areas that skew heavily conservative or heavily liberal, a primary is effectively the main election.

Primaries also allow voters to influence the party that they don’t want to win. Let’s say there’s a competitive congressional district with an incumbent Republican on the ballot but several Democrats vying to be their party’s nominee. An unaffiliated voter in that district who wants the Republican to win in November might decide to vote in the Democratic primary. Why? In the hopes of sending the weakest-possible Democrat to the general election to help secure a Republican victory.

How do you register to vote?

You can register online or in person through the DMV, and here’s some info from the State Board of Elections about how to do it. You can also register to vote by mail.

In order to register, you need to be a U.S. citizen, be at least 18 (or have turned 18 by the time of the general election — not the primary), live in the county where you want to vote and not be serving a sentence for a felony conviction. Here are specific details.

Also, you can check your registration here.

If you’ve already registered to vote for previous elections, you’re all set. You don’t have to register for every single election.

What are some important dates?

The primary is May 17. But there are a few other deadlines that are important to know.

April 22 is the last day for voters to register for the primary — if they’re voting by absentee ballot or in person on May 17. Voters who miss the deadline can still register, but only if they vote in person at an early voting site; they can register just before casting a ballot.

April 28 is when early voting for the primary starts.

May 14 is when on-site early voting ends — at 3 p.m., specifically.

How do you vote early?

You can vote early, in person, from April 28-May 14. You can vote at any early voting site in your county, and you can register the same day — even if you missed the registration deadline.

Here’s a tool you can use to search for early voting sites in your county. You can vote at any early voting site in your county; just check with your local board of elections for hours.

What about absentee voting?

You can vote by mail in North Carolina. You’ll have to request an absentee ballot, and your county’s board of elections will have to receive your request by 5 p.m. May 10. That means you’ll have to submit your request even earlier by mail to make that deadline. Here’s some information on how to do that.

You can also request an absentee ballot online here.

Here are some detailed instructions about how to vote by mail once you have your ballot. You’ll need two witnesses with you (or one notary) as you complete your ballot — but they shouldn’t watch how you vote, just that you’re marking your ballot.

Your absentee ballot has to be postmarked by election day and received by the county board of elections no later than 5 p.m. the Friday after the election.

There’s also absentee voting available for people who are visually impaired or who live in nursing or care facilities.

How do you vote in person in the primary election day?

Polls are open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on May 17. You can vote in person as long as you registered by April 22. Anyone who is in line by 7:30 p.m. will still be allowed to vote.

There are two key differences from early voting. No. 1., on election day, you can not register on-site; you must have registered by April 22. And 2., you can only vote at your assigned polling place.

You can find your polling place via this tool. You can also see that information here if you’re already registered.

Do you need to show a photo ID when you vote in person?

No.

Here’s where to find other resources 

The North Carolina State Board of Elections has information about polling sites, registration, candidates and pretty much everything else related to the 2022 primary. You can also take a look at your sample ballot there. Here’s the site.

Your county’s election board will be able to help you determine which districts you live in and answer any further questions about the primary, early voting and registration. If you’re registered to vote already, you can also see all of that information by using this tool.

Here are the counties in the Charlotte area, with links to each election board included: Mecklenburg, Gaston, Union, Cabarrus, Rowan, Anson, Stanly, Iredell, Lincoln, Cleveland, Catawba.

You can also learn more about candidates, registration and voting in general from the North Carolina State Board of Elections. Here’s that site.

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