A perfect storm

Published 8:52 pm Saturday, May 3, 2008

By Staff
It has become something of a perfect storm. The normally calm waters of North Carolina primary elections have transformed into a tempest. Famous candidates making North Carolina appearances, an onslaught of 30-second television ads and increased media coverage have converged to rock the boat of a normally staid election season.
Just how crazy is it going to get? Let’s compare. In 2006, less than 600,000 people — about 12 percent of North Carolina’s registered voters — showed up to vote in the May primary. In 2004, less than 900,000 voted. This year, some prognosticators think that 50 percent (about 2.5 million voters) may cast a ballot in the primary election.
Hotly contested races and a renewed political awareness among young people represent a sea change from years past. Enchanted by casting a meaningful vote for a national candidate, or intrigued about selecting one of the many people running in wide-open primaries for governor, these new voters will come to the polls in droves. While the presidential candidates and other well-funded campaigns can broadcast their message statewide, this crowded election year has made it difficult for most other campaigns to reach voters. Very little attention has been paid to the numerous other candidates running for office.
In addition to our legislative and congressional delegations, voters in North Carolina will choose nominees for the N.C. Court of Appeals and the executive agency heads collectively known as the Council of State. While the races for governor and president may get plenty of airtime, many of the other races can get lost in the shuffle. It is a constant struggle to stand out among the campaigns. Candidates often scratch their heads on how best to reach voters.
Make no mistake, these races are tremendously important. The people who occupy offices such as insurance commissioner or appellate court judge are tasked with making profoundly important decisions impacting millions of lives in North Carolina. Even though they do not garner the same amount of attention as the high-profile candidacies, it is important that voters are armed with information about these races.
Fortunately, there is information available if voters are willing to do a little homework. The nonpartisan N.C. Center for Voter Education has teamed up with UNC-TV to launch a comprehensive online voter guide at www.ncvoterguide.org.
In addition to offering profiles on contenders for federal, statewide and legislative office, the guide features “Judge for Yourself: Election 2008,” a series of in-depth, one-on-one audio interviews with those statewide candidates who seldom get the chance to have their voice heard above the presidential-election hype.
Just months ago, North Carolina seemed destined to be a footnote in the 2008 presidential election. Now that the path to the White House has taken an unexpected detour down Tobacco Road, there could be a push for near-record turnout at the polls between now and May 6. As such, it is vital that voters inform themselves not just on the much-buzzed-about candidates for the White House and governor’s mansion, but also the other names that await them at the ballot box.