Consider it a soft — but significant — reprimand of the Republican Party.
A “blue wave” didn’t sweep over North Carolina. But voters in the 2018 midterm election delivered new seats to Democrats in Congress and broke the Republican supermajority in the N.C. General Assembly.
In Congress, Democrats fell short of taking the Senate but are expected to control the U.S. House of Representatives with or without the help of North Carolina. In the state’s most flippable districts, incumbent Republicans George Holding and Ted Budd won tight races and Mark Harris appeared to beat Democrat Dan McCready in District 9.
Some blamed the Democratic shortcomings in North Carolina on the state’s districts, which have been ruled unconstitutional due to “partisan gerrymandering” but weren’t redrawn before Tuesday’s election. David Gonzalez, a 70-year-old Fuquay-Varina man, decided to vote for Democrat Linda Coleman instead of Holding despite supporting Donald Trump for president in 2016.
Gonzalez hoped Trump would be more diplomatic. “As president, you just can’t say, ‘This is the way I’m going to be and the rest of you be damned,’” he said.
In the legislature, Democrats needed to flip four seats in the state House and six in the state Senate to break the Republican supermajority, which allows to the GOP to override vetoes issued by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. Democrats broke through by flipping seats around Raleigh, Charlotte and Greensboro. Wake County Republicans Nelson Dollar, Chris Malone, John Adcock and Tamara Barringer all lost.
The N.C. Democratic Party leader Wayne Goodwin said the victories prove voters want legislators to “invest more in education, expand access to affordable health care and support working families.”
Dallas Woodhouse, the N.C. GOP spokesman, downplayed the results. “Wake has been a particular problem for us. We’re not completely surprised about that,” he said, adding “We’re going to retain good, healthy majorities in both legislative chambers. I will remind you that it was a night like this that saw the Democrats swept out of power just a number of years ago, and that’s not going to happen to us.”
An upset win by Democrat Gerald Baker over longtime Sheriff Donnie Harrison punctuated the night for Wake County Democrats.
Long lines and logistical hiccups at voting sites marred the first major vote in North Carolina since the election of Trump, considered one of the most divisive presidents in history. The N.C. Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement reported issues with some ballot-counting machines, blaming humidity and long ballots for the complications.
Rachel Barkley, a 30-year-old from Raleigh, said she waited in line for two hours at the Brier Creek Community Center.
“There was a woman in front of me who had two children, and she had to have her kids save her spot in line so she could go back to her car for a second. I have never had to wait that long, ever,” Barkley said. “I think it’s good, it means a lot more people are voting. No one was really angry. The feeling was: We’re all in this together, and hopefully when it’s over, we’ll all be OK.”
North Carolina’s voting totals surpassed figures from the 2014 midterms despite the presence of a U.S. Senate race on the ballot that year. This year’s elections featured no high-profile statewide races.
Democrat Anita Earls did win a state Supreme Court seat after Chris Anglin and incumbent Barbara Jackson split the Republican vote.
In a victory speech, Earls cast herself as a defender of democracy.
“We have a president who believes he can, by executive order, erase the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. And we have misguided partisans in our state who believe that they should impeach justices who don’t rule in their favor,” she said. “By working together over the past year, we’ve shown that we can stand up for the importance of an independent judiciary. Stand up for the principle that no one is above the law. And stand up for the importance of people’s right to vote.”
North Carolinians also were asked to consider six changes to the state Constitution, four of which passed. The two that failed were publicly criticized by former Republican governors as cynical, unnecessary attempts by the GOP-controlled legislature to limit the governor’s powers.
“Today is a victory for fair elections, fair courts, a healthy system of checks and balances, and for all North Carolinians,” said Justin Guillory, spokesman for the Stop Deceptive Amendments advocacy group. “Voters stood up and said no to unnecessary partisanship in our courts and the Board of Elections.”
Staff writers Brian Murphy, Andrew Carter and Richard Stradling contributed to this report. This story also includes a tip from ProPublica’s Electionland project, which monitors voting problems around the country.