The future leaders of the city of Durham will be determined on election day, Nov. 7, but Tuesday’s primary will narrow down the contenders.
The mayor and three council seats are up for election this fall.
Less than 5 percent of registered city voters cast ballots during early voting. There were 9,306 votes cast between Sept. 21 and Oct. 7 at the four sites.
Board of Elections Director Derek Bowens said more voters typically cast ballots on the day of the primary than during early voting in Durham. In 2015, a 10-day early voting period drew 3,326 votes at three early-voting sites.
Still, the early numbers suggest more voter interest this year, when a crowded field is seeking to succeed long-term incumbent Bill Bell who chose not to run.
Bowens compared this year’s early voting with 2015, and found this year’s municipal primary had drawn 790 more people at the 10-day early-voting mark.
“You’re definitely seeing more interest in early voting this time around as compared to previous municipal years,” Bowens said. He expects 8 percent to 10 percent total turnout in this primary.
On Tuesday, city voters will cast paper ballots at 56 precincts. Polls will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., with 320 election workers on duty. Bowens said that once the precincts close at 7:30 p.m., the early voting totals will show up first in election results, then precinct by precinct.
The last time these three council seats were up for reelection, in 2013, total primary turnout was 10,535 voters, nearly 7 percent of registered voters.
The mayor’s seat was up in 2015 and 2013, as mayor terms are two years. Council members serve four-year terms.
The nonpartisan primary will narrow the field for mayor and three council seats to two candidates each for the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 7.
With Bell retiring after 16 years, there are six candidates vying to take his place. The three who have raised the most money are Farad Ali, Steve Schewel and Pierce Freelon. Ali is a former council member, Schewel is a current council member, and Freelon has no political experience.
Ali, CEO of The Institute, has raised $132,000 total, according to the latest campaign finance report. His three largest contributions from the latest report, which covers Aug. 30 to Sept. 25, were:
– $5,200 from Neal Hunter, Cree co-founder and financial backer of the 751 South development now under construction.
– $5,000 from Greg Lindberg, president of Durham-based Eli Global.
– $3,000 from N.C. Realtors PAC.
Freelon, founder of Blackspace digital maker space, has raised $98,000 total according to the latest report. His top three contributions from the report were:
– $1,000 from three-time Grammy Award-winning jazz saxophonist Branford Marsalis.
– $1,500 from Marquise Stillwell, founder of Openbox in New York City.
– $500 from Kia Jones, a physician in Indianapolis.
Schewel, a visiting professor at Duke University, has raised $92,000 total as of the latest report. His top three recent contributions were:
– $1,000 from Dan Berman, the interim CEO of the Carolina Theatre of Durham.
– $1,000 from Sarah Blum-Smith, a Harvard University graduate student.
– $1,000 from Bertie Heiner, who is retired in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Other candidates are Rev. Sylvester Williams, Shea Ramirez and Tracy Drinker. Michael Johnson is on the ballot but says he has withdrawn from the race.
City residents can vote for one candidate in each of the three City Council ward races. Voters do not need to live in those wards, but the candidates for each ward do.
In Ward 1, incumbent Cora Cole-McFadden faces challengers DeDreana Freeman, who is on the Durham Planning Commission, Brian Callaway and John Tarantino.
In Ward 2, several candidates are seeking the seat being vacated by Eddie Davis. Candidates are DeAnna Hall, Dolly Reaves, Robert Fluet, LeVon Barnes, John Rooks Jr. and the Rev. Mark-Anthony Middleton.
In Ward 3, challengers to incumbent Don Moffitt are Lenny Kovalick, Vernetta Alston and Shelia Ann Huggins.
The three at-large council seats held by Schewel, Jillian Johnson and Charlie Reece do not come up for election until 2019.
Municipal races are nonpartisan, but political action committee endorsements can sway voters.
Endorsements can help voters know what interest groups support them and may provide money and people power to campaigns, said Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina.
Of the big three PACs in Durham, the People’s Alliance endorsed Schewel, Freeman, Rooks and Alston. The Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People endorsed Ali, Cole-McFadden, Middleton and Huggins. The Friends of Durham endorsed Ali, Cole-McFadden, Middleton and Moffitt.
Statewide and national political groups also endorse local candidates. Equality NC endorsed both Schewel and Freelon for mayor, and Freeman, Barnes and Alston for council.