Politics & Government

Early voting starts Wednesday on sales tax referendum, some competitive local races

With most city races all but decided in September primaries, November’s general election may seem anti-climactic to many Charlotte voters.

But voters in the city and throughout Mecklenburg County also will decide whether to raise the county sales tax and elect three members to the school board.

Early voting starts Wednesday in an election where turnout will be key.

In Charlotte, four city council candidates were effectively elected in the primaries. Six more are running in races that because of demographics and voting patterns appear all but decided. And Democratic Mayor Vi Lyles faces Republican David Michael Rice, a perennial candidate who said he has yet to start campaigning.

The only competitive race is in southeast District 6, where incumbent Republican Tariq Bokhari faces Democratic newcomer Gina Navarette.

On the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board, three at-large seats are up for election. Two of those seats will be an open race, as board chair Mary McCray and Ericka Ellis-Stewart will not be running again.

Only one incumbent, vice chair Elyse Dashew, is seeking re-election.

The election is crowded, with 13 candidates in the race. The candidates have a range of backgrounds and experiences, ranging from former CMS teachers and principals to business owners.

The election comes three months after the abrupt departure of Superintendent Clayton Wilcox.

Sales tax hike

Voters county-wide will decide whether to raise the sales tax by a quarter-cent to 7.5%, generating $50 million a year.

County commissioners say they would allocate 45% ($22.5 million) to the arts; 34% ($17 million) to parks and greenways; and 16% ($8 million) to education, including supplemental teacher pay. Another 5% ($2.5 million) would go to towns for arts and park projects.

Supporters say arts funding is in crisis. From 2005 to 2008, the ASC received $16 million or more annually. But a year later, with the recession in full swing, total revenue fell to $12 million.

Since then revenue has continued to fall or remain stagnant at about $10 million. As a result, Arts & Science Council grants to local arts groups have continued to drop, from $13.2 million in 2008 to $6.8 million last year.

Advocates of the tax also say the county’s park system ranks near the bottom among U.S. metro areas. The park commission says the backlog tops $1 billion.

A Partnership for a Better Mecklenburg is spending money on direct mail as well as TV, radio and digital ads to promote the tax.

Meanwhile critics formed a group called the Mecklenburg Tax Alliance. Its members oppose the referendum for various reasons. Some say the money the tax would generate would be better used on affordable housing or other city priorities. Others say there’s no guarantee that future county leaders would use it in the way current commissioners say they will.

District 6 gets competitive

In Charlotte’s city council race, three Republicans are running uphill battles.

Jacob Robinson faces Democrat Malcolm Graham in District 2. Brandon Pierce is challenging Democrat Renee Perkins Johnson in District 4. Both districts are heavily Democratic. In the at-large race, newcomer Joshua Richardson is running against four better-funded Democratic incumbents Dimple Ajmera, Julie Eiselt, James Mitchell and Braxton Winston.

The most competitive race is in southeast District 6. Bokhari is running in an area that has been trending toward Democrats.

Former Republican county commissioner Mathew Ridenhour, whose district overlapped Bohkari’s, was swept out of office in 2018. And in September’s special congressional election, the dozen precincts in District 6 that are also in the 9th Congressional District all went for Democrat Dan McCready.

“The thing that concerns me really is that we’re seeing a blueing of Mecklenburg in the southern portion,” Bohkari said. “I don’t think the time is up yet for a Republican in District 6.”

On council, Bohkari sees himself as a mediator, both between developers and neighborhoods, and with colleagues. With Democratic council member Larken Egleston, he hosts a podcast called “R&D in the QC” that boasts more than 45,000 subscribers.

Navarrete, who was born in Chile, would be the council’s first Latina member. She’s a neuropsychologist who’s become a social activist. She’s co-president of the Charlotte’s Women’s March, which she helped found.

A Charlottean for almost seven years, she said she’s an advocate for “smart, sustainable growth.”

“I believe that how we grow as a city is just as important as how fast we grow,” she said.

Where to early vote

Early voting starts Wednesday at the Hal Marshall Center. The site is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Friday, and then 8 a.m to 7 p.m. weekdays through Nov. 1.

Starting Oct. 21, the following sites will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays through Nov. 1. All sites are open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday Oct. 26 and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday Oct. 27.

▪ Beatties Ford Library, 2412 Beatties Ford Road.

▪ Elon Park Rec Center, 11401 Ardrey Kell Road.

▪ Hal Marshall Center, 618 N. College St.

Hornet’s Nest Pavilion, 6301 Beatties Ford Rd.

▪ Independence Regional Library, 6000 Conference Drive.

▪ Main Library, 310 N. Tryon St.

▪ Matthews Library, 230 Matthews Station St.

▪ Mint Hill Library, 6840 Matthews–Mint Hill Road.

▪ Morrison Regional Library, 7015 Morrison Blvd.

▪ Smith Family Center, 1600 Tyvola Road.

▪ South County Regional Library, 5801 Rea Road.

▪ Old Hollywood Video, 11130 S Tryon St. (Steele Creek)

▪ Old Pier 1, 8802 JW Clay Blvd. (University City).

▪ West Boulevard Library, 2157 West Blvd.

North County Regional Library, 16500 Holly Crest Ln., Huntersville

Cornelius town Hall, 21445 Catawba Ave., Cornelius

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