Brent Laurenz: Make your voice heard in local elections

October 18, 2013 

Brent Laurenz

It may not seem like it to a lot of people, but there are elections happening across North Carolina this year.

You may not be bombarded with television ads or high-profile stories on the evening news, but in towns and cities throughout the state, candidates are campaigning for local offices and appealing to voters to pay attention.

Most municipalities elect their leaders in odd-numbered years, but unfortunately, most voters choose not to participate.

Unlike presidential election years where statewide turnout is close to 70 percent, in 2013 most localities would be happy to see voter turnout crack 20 percent. That’s a shame. Local officials can have a huge impact on a resident’s day-to-day life, arguably more so than the president, yet so few choose to have a say in who those leaders will be.

While it may seem like little information is available about the candidates running for municipal offices, aside from the stray yard sign here or there, it’s actually often easier to find out where these candidates stand on the issues. Not only are they generally more accessible – you can always email or call and you’ll probably get a response from the candidate – but voters can also attend forums to hear firsthand from the candidates themselves about why they are running for office.

In addition, the nonpartisan N.C. Center for Voter Education has compiled its 2013 North Carolina Voter Guide, available at, featuring information on candidates running for office in more than 200 towns and cities across the state.

New voting law

As voters make their way to the polls this year, hopefully in greater numbers than we’ve seen in past local election years, it is important to remember that the 2013 elections are unaffected by the new elections overhaul law signed by Gov. Pat McCrory in August. There has been a lot of controversy concerning the law and the new restrictions it places on voting, which has led to confusion among voters.

The new law’s requirement to show a photo ID at the polling place will not go into effect until 2016. So voters in 2013, 2014 and 2015 will not be required to show a government-issued photo ID to vote. Also, the elimination of same-day voter registration, shortening of the early voting period by seven days, removal of straight-ticket voting from the ballot, banning out-of-precinct voting and many other new provisions will not be effective until 2014.

That means beginning in 2014, elections are going to look much different than they have for the past several years, but 2013 will still look the same. This year, voters will still have 17 days of early voting available. Residents can still register to vote and cast a ballot during the early voting period. And nobody will be required to show a picture ID before voting.

Hopefully all residents will exercise their right to vote in 2013 and beyond. Every election is important and the only way to have your voice heard is to participate in the process. So I urge everyone to get informed and go vote.

Brent Laurenz is executive director of the N.C. Center for Voter Education, a Raleigh-based nonprofit and nonpartisan organization dedicated to helping residents fully participate in democracy.

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