Everyone up for election in Franklin pledges to run again

When Sam Greenwood retired as Macon County’s manager and almost immediately accepted the same position for the town of Franklin in March of 2008, he made sure everyone clearly understood that his time there was limited.

Greenwood wanted to help Franklin make a seamless transition from a mayor-council form of government to a council-manager style. This task now completed, Greenwood is set to retire from public service for a second time.

That means November’s upcoming election in Franklin — where the mayor and four of the six aldermen are up — is particularly critical to the long-term future and wellbeing of the town, the incumbent aldermen and mayor said in a series of interviews last week. To a person, they agreed the key issue for the next board would be finding the right person to replace Greenwood as town manager. Greenwood isn’t the only turn-over the town will see. Terry Bradley, Franklin’s longtime police chief, also is going to retire this year. And several more of the town’s top employees have enough years in that they could opt to leave, too.

“There’s a lot of people who are department heads who are eligible for retirement,” Alderman Bob Scott said.

Mayor Joe Collins, who said he is “strongly considering” running again, has been mayor for four two-year terms, and before that, was an alderman.

Scott said rather than run for another four years, he would instead run for the seat formerly held by Jerry Evans, who passed away this year. Evans’ seat only has two years left on it, rather than a full four-year term.

“Jerry and I were pretty good friends, and I’d like to serve out his remaining time,” Scott said. Scott is finishing out the end of two terms, and he started his tenure of public service as an advocate of term limits — there are some projects Scott said he’d like to see through, however.

Alderman Farrell Jamison, appointed to fill the seat after Evans died in February, said he’d run, too, to keep on serving out Evans’ unexpired term. Jamison wants to focus on economic development issues, bringing more businesses into Franklin, and to help with general revitalization in downtown.

Alderwoman Joyce Handley said she probably plans to run again, although she acknowledged she’s technically supposed to be “sitting on the fence” and weighing that decision because her husband has suggested enough, perhaps, is enough.

Greenwood, Handley said, “has done a marvelous job,” but now a replacement must be found, and it needs to be the right person for the job. She wants to help pick that person.

Alderman Verlin Curtis, who has served two four-year terms, does, too. Curtis said another issue in Franklin is the changes a flood insurance program could bring to some property owners, particularly in the Crawford Branch area. What’s at stake is whether Franklin participates in the National Flood Insurance Program, which could mandate certain property development restrictions in the 100-year floodplain.

Sylva’s appointed aldermen must run for real this fall

Easing congestion on N.C. 107 and general economic development issues look to shape the context of Sylva’s upcoming municipal elections.

Three commissioner positions are open. Two landed in their seats via appointments instead of election by voters: Harold Hensley and Chris Matheson, who will now have to officially run to keep their seats. Ray Lewis won his seat four years ago.

Hensley was not prepared to commit this week on whether he will seek election, saying he is truly undecided at this juncture.

“I’ve enjoyed it,” Hensley acknowledged, adding that his decision, however, will hinge on whether he feels he “can benefit the taxpayers.”

Hensley had served on the board previously, but narrowly lost his seat in the last election in 2009. He found his way back on the board last year, however, being appointed to replace the outgoing Sarah Graham, who resigned after moving out of the town limits.

Like Hensley, Lewis wouldn’t commit one way or another about whether he will run.

“It is a little early yet. I haven’t made my mind up,” said Lewis, who is finishing a second term as commissioner.

Matheson said she would run, seeking this time to win election to the post she was appointed to fill when Maurice Moody moved up from commissioner to mayor in the November 2009 election.

“I do want to be a part of helping ease congestion on 107,” Matheson said. “To continue working with the DOT, and the county.”

Matheson also wants to see further improvements to Mill Street (known as Backstreet locally). And, the former assistant district attorney is adamant about helping shepherd the police department from cramped quarters into more spacious accommodations.

The town is trying to get the county to swap the old library building for the town’s former chamber of commerce building. The old library, Matheson said, would make a perfect home for the police department.

One newcomer has announced his intentions of running for a town commissioner position. Sylva businessman and resident John Bubacz, owner of Signature Brew Coffee Company, said he became interested in serving after Commissioner Danny Allen indicated he would resign for unspecified reasons at an unspecified point in the future, something which has yet to actually happen.

And, Bubacz said, he was motivated to run while following the town’s wrangle over how best to fund the Downtown Sylva Association. Bubacz is on the DSA board.

“I literally want to do this because I want to be a part,” he said. “There is nothing specific I want to change or accomplish, but I do feel that responsibility.”

Canton election field might calm down this year

Two years after its last major shakeup, the entire Canton town board is up for election again, though this time, many aldermen are intent on keeping their seats.

In the last election, three new members swept into power from a wide field of 10 candidates, after the previous board — themselves new after replacing a slew of long-time incumbents in 2007 — were ousted.

This time, some current incumbents are pointing at their accomplishments and remaining to-do lists as reasons to stay in office.

Alderman Jimmy Flynn hasn’t yet made up his mind, but said he’s leaning heavily towards filing.

“I told everybody when I ran [in 2009] I had two main goals, one was to get the new sewer line out to Buckeye Cove and we’ve accomplished that,” said Flynn. The other was the purchase of a new fire truck, also ticked off the list. Flynn said he’d like to stay around to see the sewer project through and get to a few other things lingering on the board’s agenda.

Many other members highlight the same two goals as both their success as a board and desire to keep going.

Alderman Ed Underwood is also, as yet, not at 100 percent certainty of running again, but said he’d like to, especially given the successful collaboration of the board.

Alderman Eric Dills is one member who said he’s unlikely to seek another term for non-political reasons, and Kenneth Holland could not be reached for comment.

Some board members may face challenges, though.

Local resident Patrick Willis, who has campaigned for a seat before, said he’s intent on running again this year.

“I think the town board can be much more proactive in a few areas that I think the town can improve on,” said Willis, who is the office manager for the Thomas Wolfe Memorial in Asheville. “I think Canton has a lot of opportunities, it’s got a lot of advantages. It’s a great place to live.”

Not all those who emerged from the woodworks two years ago will make another go of it this time, however. Gene Monson, part of the groundswell of candidates last time reflecting dissatisfaction over the town’s leadership, said he won’t run again this time.

Meanwhile, Mayor Pat Smathers said he hasn’t given much thought to the idea of returning to the post. He’s not yet ruling it out either, however.

Smathers has held the job since 2000 and ran uncontested in the last election.

He’s been actively seeking a new vision for Canton in that time, though initiatives have stalled under previous boards.

But regardless of whether his name is on this year’s ballot, Smathers said he’s pleased with the progress the town has made this term.

“I think the town is doing, you know, under the circumstances, pretty well,” said Smathers. “I’m pretty optimistic about the future, whether I’m the mayor or not the mayor.”

Maggie’s mayor to face challenger in fall election

Rarely is there a lull in political turmoil in Maggie Valley, and this summer is no exception.

With election filing only a few days away, Mayor Roger McElroy’s seat will again be up for grabs, as will the spots of Alderman Phil Aldridge and newly appointed Alderwoman Danya Vanhook.

Vanhook’s seat is a logical starting place in a political discussion of the valley — it’s been the most hotly contested and highly controversial over the last few months.

When Colin Edwards resigned the seat earlier this year over a spat with the town’s Alcoholic Beverage Commission Board, another tussle followed over just how to fill the vacant spot. Some in the valley thought it was only fair to appoint the runner up from the last election, who had at least gained some semblance of backing from voters, which in this case was Philip Wight. But Vanhook, a local lawyer and former district court judge who lost that seat in last November’s election, was appointed instead.

Vanhook said she’s going to throw her hat in the ring for the same reason she applied for the appointment.

“I wanted to serve the town, I wanted to continue to be in public service. It’s a way that I can serve and give back and use my legal skills to bring something to the board,” said Vanhook.

Not easily dissuaded, however, Wight may run again himself.

Meanwhile, Alderman Phil Aldridge said he intends to defend his position.

Aldridge has been embattled with other board members of late, voting against the budget and Vanhook’s appointment and publicly questioning many of the board’s other choices.

“I have a lot of passion for the valley, but what I don’t have that some of them do, I don’t have a personal agenda,” said Aldridge. He plans to try for another term because he said he’s still concerned with the town’s direction.

Last but not least is the mayoral spot, a perch long held by Roger McElroy. McElroy has said that he’ll most likely come back for another round this election year.

But he likely face a challenge from Ron DeSimone, a local contractor, has showed interest in the position.

“There’s a lot of things I see that need to be done in Maggie Valley,” said DeSimone. “Our government in Maggie Valley is growing and so are expenses, and I’m for smaller government and smaller expenses.”

DeSimone has run once before, for alderman, and applied in February for the seat that is now Vanhook’s.

Waynesville alderwoman won’t run again

In Waynesville, it’s time again for a town board election, marking the end of four-year terms for both the mayor and all four aldermen.

The election will be particularly critical with the impending retirement of longtime Town Manager Lee Galloway next year. His replacement will be chosen by the town board after the fall election.

The board already had one early shakeup, after the death of Alderman Kenneth Moore in 2009. Wells Greeley, owner of Wells Funeral Home, was tapped to fill the vacant seat and has said that he intends to run for it this year.

“I did make the commitment when I accepted the appointment to run again, so I’m following through with my word,” said Greeley. Though he was appointed to his current seat, this won’t be his first try at a political race.

Greeley ran for and was elected to an alderman post twice in Canton.

Elsewhere on the board, first-term incumbent Dr. Leroy Roberson said that he’s also considering a run for re-election, citing the success of the board in passing the town’s new land-use standards and the ease with which the current board runs.

“Basically, I enjoy doing it,” said Roberson, an optometrist with an office on Main Street. “Considering the financial difficulties that have presented themselves [with the economy], we’ve been able to maintain the services and the town, I think, is being run quite well.”

Alderman Gary Caldwell, who has now seen four terms on the board, will be going back for another shot. If he’s successful, this term would give him two decades on the board.

Not all of the longer-term board members, however, will be back for another round. Libba Feichter, who is closing out her third term on the board, won’t be returning in the fall. Feichter was out of state on family business and could not be reached for comment.

In the mayor’s chair, Mayor Gavin Brown is now wrapping up his first term as mayor, but 12th year on the board.

Brown moved up to the job of mayor in 2007 after ousting long-time incumbent Henry Foy. This year, said Brown, he’s ready to settle in for another four years.

“I don’t personally believe in term limits, I believe in limiting yourself,” said Brown, who added that his expertise and long record of service allows him to bring experience to the equation that others won’t have.

“I’ve been very pleased with the things that have happened here over the last four, eight, 12 years that I’ve been on this board. I think Waynesville is one of the best towns in the state.”

While the names of challengers have been circulating, none would confirm intentions to run yet, but there will be at least one new face on the board this fall when Feichter’s successor is chosen by voters in November.

Politics, Cherokee style, are in high gear leading up to primary

The July 7 primary is drawing closer in Cherokee, when the field for principal chief will narrow from five to two.

Current Principal Chief Michell Hicks is making a play for his third four-year term. He’ll again be facing his 2007 rival, Patrick Lambert, whom he defeated by a mere 13 votes to reclaim the seat.

Lambert is an attorney and head of the Tribal Gaming Commission Enterprise, and brought a lawsuit protesting the 2007 election results that was rejected by the tribal Supreme Court.

Also in the race are some newcomers, but they are in no sense novices to the hurly burly politics of the tribe.

Longtime political activist Mary ‘Missy’ Crowe has stepped back into the fray, after protesting the results of the 2003 election, when she failed to win a seat on tribal council.

Juanita Wilson, a former assistant to Chief Hicks, is also coming back to have another try at the top spot. She ran in the last primary, but threw her name in at the last minute and campaigned little in the primary run-up.

Gary Ledford, public safety director for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, is the only candidate who hasn’t run for office before. That’s because his 20-year military career, which ended in 2006, precluded him from taking office. He’s been in public safety with the tribe since 2007, and he believes his two decades of public service have prepared him for taking the post.

The candidate list isn’t yet official — that won’t come out until absentee ballots are printed in mid-May — but registration for new candidates has already closed.

One of the issues likely to dominate the debate this year is, of course, the economy. Most of the five candidates listed it as one of the major issues facing the tribe in the upcoming four years, and Chief Hicks, the tribe’s former finance officer, is focusing his campaign on the basis of his fiscal leadership.

The Eastern Band, unlike many other local governments, isn’t hemorrhaging funds and doesn’t appear to be facing cuts thanks to its glittering cash cow, Harrah’s Cherokee Hotel and Casino. Half of what the casino pulls in is distributed evenly among members, while the other half goes to tribal operations. But not everyone is pleased with how that’s handled.

“There seems to be very little planning in how we’re spending money, even to develop, even to expand the casino,” said Wilson, who also mentioned the Sequoyah National Golf Club (a tribally owned operation in Whittier) as a concerning drain on tribal finances, and she characterized it as an unwise decision by tribal leaders.

Crowe echoed those sentiments of fiscal caution.

“We have seen a lot of things happen because of the economy, and they do have a direct effect to our economy here on the boundary. I feel that we need to start working towards other funding. There’s a lot at stake, so we have to be diligent in protecting our sovereignty and our assets,” said Crowe, suggesting that maybe relying solely on Harrah’s to continue buoying the tribe through tough economic times might not be the best idea.

Ledford’s also pitching diminished dependency on the casino.

“At very great financial risk, we’ve put all of our eggs into one flimsy non-double-weave basket. We have effectively turned our back on the small businessman by focusing all efforts on the casino, in a declining casino market,” said Ledford. “You have to — not should, have to — drive down your debt, build your cash reserves and eliminate or postpone unnecessary expansion projects that increase that debt.”

Meanwhile, incumbent Hicks is seeking to protect his perch by pointing to his accomplishments at the helm as the economic downturn has deepened.

“The biggest concern for this tribe right now is paying the debt off,” said Hicks. And, he said, as a CPA with 23 years of tribal service under his belt, he’s just the guy to keep working on it.

“I’ve helped bring us through the worst economy we’ve ever seen, and the tribe is doing great,” said Hicks.

 

Tribal transparency

Money’s not the only issue on the table in this race, though. Transparency is a buzzword that keeps surfacing when candidates discuss what led them into the fray.

Lambert said the desire for transparency is part of what pulled him back into the political arena.

“One of the things that we’re going to do is make sure that there’s audits and assurance of fairness and that all the tribal audits are made public,” said Lambert. “People are just looking for a change and that’s primarily the reason I got back into it.”

Crowe said that she, too, is lobbying for a more informative government than what she sees now.

“I’ve been the first one to be screaming transparency, all the way back to 1986,” said Crowe. “We have to be vigilant in knowing exactly what the government is doing with our land and our money. Would you not want the CEO of a business to allow the shareholders to know exactly what’s going on with that business?”

Wilson, who has seen the cogs of the tribe’s executive branch turning from the inside, said increased government transparency is one of her top campaign priorities and what pushed her to run in 2007 and now.

“Our government isn’t transparent. We don’t have our own constitution, despite the fact that we are a sovereign nation,” said Wilson. “It amazes me that we’re making the kind of money we are from the casino and we’re cutting programs. I want to get in and figure out exactly where things are going, how things are being spent, because it just doesn’t add up for me.

“I’m not on a witch hunt, I simply want to do this for the people.”

Hicks himself called for openness in campaign-finance disclosure during a debate with Lambert in the last election.

But as the two-term sitting leader, Hicks will be on the defense when it comes to touting the merits of open government. It’s an issue that’s popped up for the chief before, when Joe Martin, former editor of tribal newspaper The One Feather, brought a wrongful termination lawsuit against the tribe, saying Hicks tried to quash unflattering coverage of the tribe in the paper, then pushed Martin out when he didn’t acquiesce. The suit settled out of court late last year.

 

Incumbent’s advantage?

Though the primary is still two months out, Hicks is already mounting a concentrated offensive to win the affections and ear of the voting public.

Though it’s hardly a gauge of public opinion or popularity, if judging by publicity alone, Hicks takes the race by a landslide.

It is difficult to drive a few hundred yards on any major thoroughfare in Cherokee without encountering at least one sign seeking a vote for his re-election. And then there are the two massive tractor-trailers in downtown Cherokee, parked less than a mile from one another, draped with gargantuan banners that bear his stoic image and the phrase ‘Re-Elect Hicks’ in 10-foot-high letters.

At a re-elect-Chief-Hicks cookout this week, he told gathered supporters that he was going back for a third helping because he felt that there was more left to do.

“My work isn’t finished yet, at this point. We’ve accomplished a lot over the last eight years, but I’ve got a lot more that I want to do on behalf of this tribe,” said Hicks.

And he’s got the weight of two campaigns behind him, which offers a high level of brand recognition among voters; a few at the rally were sporting T-shirts emblazoned with ‘Chicks for Hicks,’ and though they planned for 400, stores of burgers and hot dogs were running low only an hour in.

But other candidates think that their freshness is what offers them an advantage. Wilson said she doesn’t see the benefits of keeping a many-term chief in office.

“I’m going in with a mindset of being one term,” said Wilson. “I supported [Hicks] in his first term. I went to work for him. And after the first three-and-a-half years, the policy shifted,” which she said she feels is due in part to the pressure for re-election.

Hicks himself, though, didn’t point to his eight-year incumbency as a challenge in this year’s campaign, but seemed to see it as an asset.

His greatest challenge, he said, will be getting voters out to the polls.

“This can’t be a lazy election,” said Hicks.

Challenger Lambert, though, believes this election will be about changing, not staying, the course.

“This election’s going to be about the tribe and trying to change the direction of the tribe,” said Lambert.

 

Also on the ballot

Elsewhere in primary battles, the field is broad, but not quite as crowded as it has been in previous elections. Vying for vice chief, the only other position elected by the tribe at-large, are former opponents Teresa McCoy, currently a tribal council member for Big Cove, and Larry Blythe, the incumbent. Also running for that seat are Carroll ‘Peanut’ Crowe and Joey Owle.

The six tribal council districts, which operate on two-year terms, have anywhere between four and eight hopefuls, and each group will be whittled to four in the primary, with two winners chosen. All sitting tribal council members are running for re-election.

The general election will be held September 1, but the last chance for voter registration is June 8.

Far-left liberal could be a spoiler in Shuler’s next election

A liberal Asheville city council member announced this week he’d run as an Independent in 2012 against U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler, D-Waynesville, potentially eroding Shuler’s Democratic base and making for a tough re-election bid for the three-term congressman.

A former editor for the Asheville-based newspaper Mountain Xpress, Cecil Bothwell acknowledged he has an uphill battle gaining sufficient name recognition outside of Buncombe County to unseat the former NFL quarterback.

“I guess I’ll wear out some shoe leather,” said Bothwell, 60, who turned down a potential opportunity to serve as the chairman of the Buncombe County Democratic Party to tackle Shuler.

Shuler won re-election by more than 20,000 votes in November against Republican Jeff Miller of Hendersonville, who started out his campaign with considerably stronger name recognition than Bothwell.

First, to even get on the ballot as an Independent, Bothwell must by Jan. 1, 2012, garner enough voter signatures to equal 4 percent of the total number of registered voters in the 15-county congressional district — about 20,000 signatures. Then, to win, he must battle an experienced candidate with the ability to raise plenty of money to fund his re-election efforts against Shuler, who’s war chest will easily top $1 million by the time campaign season starts.

But, no matter how unlikely his actual chances of success, Bothwell’s bid is nonetheless important: as a third-party candidate, Bothwell will have the ability to help drive the political debate, plus his entry indicates a possible fracturing of the Democratic base.

Shuler got in hot water with many Democrats when he voted against health care reform. In the May primary last year, Democratic voters punished Shuler for his conservative leanings at the polls, allowing a relatively unknown candidate from Hendersonville to pull down nearly 40 percent of the primary vote and even carry Buncombe County, the most liberal county in the region.

If Bothwell pulls a piece of the Democratic pie away during the general election, and if the GOP mounts a meaningful challenge, Shuler really could be facing a challenge getting re-elected, said Chris Cooper, who teaches political science at Western Carolina University and helps oversee a blog on North Carolina politics.

“Surely he doesn’t think he’s going to win,” Cooper said of Bothwell. “And to me, that’s the really interesting question about why he’s running … clearly the liberal wing of the Democratic Party is not happy with Heath Shuler.”

That’s clear because Bothwell, by most any standard, could be described as a liberal Democrat’s Democrat. Asked about his political connections west of Buncombe County, he mentioned anti-death penalty and anti-war advocates, plus interaction with the Canary Coalition, an environmental coalition that is based in Sylva.

He said he believes Shuler is vulnerable; that the congressman is “to the right” of mainstream Democrat Party politics.

“I think people who are Blue Dogs should feel free to switch parties,” Bothwell said.

Shuler has donned the mantle of a fiscally conservative Democrat, represented in Congress by the Blue Dog Coalition that he now helps lead.

Bothwell believes his message will resonate beyond disenchanted members of the Democratic Party. Libertarians and some Republicans likely will find parts of his platform attractive, such as a push for no-more-drug-war and opposition to the Patriot Act, he said.

A WCU/Smoky Mountain News poll in Jackson County before the 2010 November election revealed Shuler’s election successes are attributable to his appeal to a cross-section of voters on both sides of the aisle. Shuler pulled only a general approval rating of 46 percent, with 39 percent unfavorable and the remaining 15 percent undecided. What was striking about the poll is that Republicans gave Shuler just as high an approval rating as Democrats.

Shuler not only locked down the votes of conservative Democrats who would otherwise be quick to desert a more liberal candidate, he captured part of the Republican vote. At the time, Cooper pointed out Shuler also grabbed the liberal Democratic vote simply because they felt they had nowhere else to turn.

Until, that is, now — Bothwell’s entry into the race, no matter how unlikely his chances of pulling off an upset, give unhappy liberal Democrats an option to publicly air any displeasures with Shuler.

There are indications the congressman might well be reacting already to this possible erosion from the extreme left of his base, Cooper said. In a vote that struck many political observers as somewhat incongruous, Shuler voted against a recent resolution to eliminate funding for National Public Radio.

The legislation, which passed the House of Representatives, would eliminate federal funding for NPR and prohibit local stations from using federal funding for content. Shuler cited a need for rural areas such as Western North Carolina to have access to news and information, as provided by NPR.

As for why Bothwell’s running? Bothwell said he wants to improve children’s welfare, saying “I really think we need to retool our support for children in a meaningful way;” he wants to eliminate “corporate personhood,” or treating a company like it’s a person; stop trying to “police the world;” include a public option in health care; and renegotiate global deals to help ensure environmental protections.

Efforts to reach Shuler before press time were unsuccessful.c

Beale might not fit the bill following election; Macon board swings right

Ronnie Beale is an amiable chap, and for the past few years he’s injected a bit of humor into what is often the tediously dull process of overseeing county government.

“If you want to stay and see the rest of the sausage made, you are welcome,” Beale told two veterans Monday night after the two men completed a presentation before the Macon County Board of Commissioners.

Chuckling at Beale’s small witticism, the men took advantage of the opening and left, escaping the remainder of the meeting.

Beale, a Democrat, is currently chairman of the board. Macon County, along with most of the counties in Western North Carolina (though not Jackson County, where voters decide), allows commissioners to elect their own chairman. Following a dustup on Election Day, it’s debatable whether Beale will retain the top leadership post.

It took only one loss, and the makeup of the board swung right. From Democrat 3-2, to Republican 3-2: Bob Simpson is out, Ron Haven is in, and Beale — though he retained his position as commissioner — is likely gone, too, as chairman.

Thy will be done, Beale told fellow commissioners and the few folks on hand Monday night to watch a lame-duck commission meeting. The voters have spoken and we’ll abide by their wishes, he said.

To that end, new commissioners will be sworn in Dec. 6. There will be an 8 a.m. meeting held by current commissioners, which in addition to Simpson includes Jim Davis, who is headed to Raleigh after besting Sen. John Snow in N.C. Senate District 50. The county’s Republican party will select his replacement to the commission board. Two years remain to Davis’ commission term.

Current commissioners will take care of some housekeeping details in the morning. They will recess, and a second meeting will be held that evening, at 6 p.m.  That is when the newly constituted board will gather to select a chairman and vice chairman.

Dead man gets a ‘My Vote Counted’ sticker

From the we-really-couldn’t-make-this-stuff-up file, election workers in Jackson County didn’t bat an eye when a woman this election cycle brought her dead husband along to vote.

Lisa Lovedahl-Lehman, director of the Jackson County Board of Elections, said the sadly mistaken woman showed up for early voting at the Scotts Creek site and told an election worker her husband wanted to vote, too.

The election worker, mystified, looked around. But she didn’t see anyone resembling a husband. Perhaps he needed help with curbside voting, she asked?

Not exactly. Instead, the confused woman whipped out a small urn from inside her pocketbook and told the election worker her husband’s name. Sure enough, the man’s name was listed on Jackson County’s voter rolls — along with a notation that the gentleman was deceased.

The election worker explained that in Jackson County (at least not right out like this in the open) dead people couldn’t legally vote. But the suggestion was made, and found agreeable, that he could “help” her vote, if she’d like.

She did like, and the woman and her (ahem) husband voted. The election workers gave her a “My Vote Counted” sticker for the urn when the vote had tallied.

The dead-man-voting account is rivaled by another election-day story from Polk County. An election worker there went to help someone with curbside voting. The man who wanted to vote wasn’t wearing pants. We were unable to ascertain whether wearing pants is a legal requirement for voting in North Carolina. An election worker in Polk County who answered the phone snottily said she didn’t consider the matter news.

Early voting data doesn’t favor any party

Older voters are hitting the early polls in force this election year, according to data gathered by Western Carolina University professor Chris Cooper.

In the 11th Congressional District, people choosing the early vote are “overwhelmingly white” — a whopping 96 percent — clock in with an average age of 62, and split pretty evenly down gender lines with 51 percent being female.

As for numbers, though, early voting hasn’t proven more popular this midterm than in recent elections.

According to Kim Bishop, Macon County’s elections director, early voting there was on track to match the 4,974 tally she saw in 2006. On Oct. 15 – about halfway through – 2,049 voters had already cast their ballots.

In Haywood County, the story is roughly the same. Haywood’s election supervisor, Robert Inman, said that 2006 — the last non-presidential election — saw about 6,600 early voters, and halfway through the early voting cycle 2,357 had cast ballots.

Cooper said this fits with the data that he has: there’s really no evidence to show that early voting changes who is showing up to the polls. He also points out that, despite common belief, one of the great myths of early voting is that it benefits one party disproportionately.

“I think one of (the misconceptions) is that early voting is really benefiting one party or the other. The reality is that neither one is really true,” said Cooper. “I don’t think early voting tends to benefit one party or the other. It’s a way to reduce excuses, but it doesn’t change the electorate.”

Cooper has been collecting and analzying data this election year that looks at Western North Carolina’s early voting numbers. He’s trying to see what those numbers say about not only the election, but the electorate. So far, he hasn’t come across too many surprises for this region.

“In general, it doesn’t look radically different than you’d expect,” he said, with the exception of a few counties like Graham. In this region, the statistics are relatively predictable: where there are more registered Democrats, there are also more early-voting Democrats. In counties that are more Republican-heavy, they’re getting more to the polls.

For most early voters, the draw is really the convenience. Lines are negligible, times are flexible and voting before Election Day is a significantly more hassle-free experience.

Howard Turner, a Haywood County resident who voted last week, said he was surprised by how many of his friends and acquaintances were not even registered voters, so that stirred in him a desire to make his vote count. But as for why he early voted?

“The lines,” Turner explained simply.

Jim and Wanda Marquart, Waynesville transplants from the North, said they were regular voters and voted early for the first time this year. But it wasn’t enthusiasm or strategy that took them to the polls.

“We’re going to be gone out of the state when Election Day comes,” said Jim Marquart, so they got in early.

While early voting might not be a game-changer for constituents, however, it does change things for candidates, who have to plan their strategies taking into account the shortened stumping timeline they’ll have. To win, candidates must plan ahead to win the hearts of early voters, not just the Election Day crowd.

“I think elections now are about who’s winning the mobilization game,” said Cooper. “Who’s getting people to show up and who’s not getting people to show up.”

District Court judge candidate Roy Wijewickrama said he knows that all too well.

“We’re still out there asking for votes, but it changes it in that we just have to get people out there earlier,” said Wijewickrama.

And Cooper’s data shows that, this year, they’ll have to win over more independent hearts to really take the early vote.

“Independents seem to be turning out in greater numbers this time than they did in 2006,” said Cooper on the blog where his results and analysis are posted. “Democratic turnout in the 11th District does seem to be down a bit and the Republican turnout is holding pretty steady compared to 2006. Maybe in our district it’s not an ‘enthusiasm gap’ with Republicans being more excited and mobilized than Democrats, but rather an ‘independent enthusiasm gap.’”

But whatever way the early vote swings, Cooper said he hopes his data will encourage all voters to pay attention to what’s going on where they live locally, instead of just keeping an eye on the national scene.

“These local races are important,” said Cooper. “These local races are worth paying attention to.”

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