Election follow-up: May 2018 primary

May 13, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
May 13, 2018

It’s safe to say that Tuesday night’s results support the notion that my views are not widely held by Durham County’s Democratic electorate. Incumbent Sheriff Mike Andrews was defeated by challenger Clarence Birkhead, in a rematch of Durham’s 2014 sheriff election, while incumbent district attorney Roger Echols was upset by challenger Satana Deberry.

A key measure of a healthy, functional democracy — or a functional republic, if you prefer — is that the supporters of losing candidates accept the results as legitimate. And I do!

But, while I hold no animus toward either victor, I stand by the reservations I expressed in my previous post about both of the candidates (as well as about Andrews). I suppose only time will tell whether Birkhead is a good sheriff or Deberry a good D.A. It might be a while, if ever, before I produce an edition of my Patented Pundit Scorecard™ on this topic.

I should note that, although I was somewhat surprised by the results, in a few ways they squared with expectations. Mike Andrews, Durham County’s incumbent sheriff, lost to challenger Clarence Birkhead by a margin of roughly 31 percent to 64 percent. Given the deaths at the jail, a certain amount of community unhappiness with the sheriff’s office in particular and law enforcement in general, and the Andrews campaign’s apparent social media screwup on the morning of the election, it’s understandable that the incumbent’s margin of defeat was relatively large.

(I also suspect that one key reason Andrews won the county’s northern and eastern precincts is that they skew more white than precincts in the city and to its south and west.)

By contrast, incumbent District Attorney Roger Echols lost his race to challenger Satana Deberry by a margin of 49 percent to 41 percent; a third candidate, Daniel Meier, got a little shy of 11 percent of the vote. Since there just wasn’t as much discontent with Echols, I get why his performance was relatively stronger than the sheriff’s.

(Oh, and speaking of precinct voting patterns: The incumbent won a handful of outlying precincts to the east, west and south, Deberry was the victor in just about all of the populous municipal precincts in the center of the county, and Meier’s only pluralities came in Durham’s two northernmost precincts.)

By the way, I figured out one minor puzzle that I mentioned Tuesday evening.

North Carolina is generally considered to have very restrictive ballot access laws. Write-in candidates are only allowed in partisan contests after such a contestant has collected a certain number of signatures from eligible voters. So if a political party has just one contestant, she or he won’t appear on a primary ballot and will automatically win the party’s nomination.

However, the rules are different for nonpartisan races, such as for municipal, school board and judicial seats. Although there was only one contestant in my district, as with all nonpartisan contests, the ballot automatically included a line for potential write-in candidates.

May 8, 2018, sample ballot

A view of the three races listed on a sample Democratic primary ballot for a Durham County polling station.

So: Mystery solved!

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