The 2017 City Council election, by the numbers

Published 12:10 am Sunday, November 12, 2017

By Elizabeth Cook and Jessica Coates

SALISBURY — Once again, only one black candidate — Al Heggins — was elected to the Salisbury City Council.

But, depending on how the newly elected council votes, Heggins could be mayor — the first female African-American mayor that Salisbury has had.

This election also gave Salisbury its first openly gay council member — Tamara Sheffield — and could potentially give the city its first Jewish mayor pro tem, David Post.

Here’s one more first: A majority of council members will be women — Heggins, Sheffield and Karen Alexander.

Five days after the Nov. 7 election, the results are still sinking in for Salisbury voters. Nationwide, it was a big election year for female, black and LGBTQ candidates, and the city was part of that trend.

With a black woman and a Jewish man at the top of the field this time, the role of mayor is coming to an end for Karen Alexander, who might be described as part of the Salisbury establishment. The council is undergoing a dramatic shift.

Here’s a look at the numbers behind that shift.

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Of the 22,039 registered voters in Salisbury, nearly 4,000 cast ballots by the time polls closed on Nov. 7, about 500 more than in 2015. The turnout this year was  approximately 18 percent.

No precinct had more than 27 percent of its registered voters come out to vote.

Of the 15 Salisbury precincts, the ones with the highest turnout were West Ward 1, with 26.56 percent; Ellis, with 25.76 percent; and North Ward, with 25.56 percent.

The precinct with the lowest turnout was North Locke — which has about 330 city voters — with 4.55 percent.

The city’s largest precinct is predominantly black West Ward 3, with some 3,000 registered voters, including 2,739 blacks and 72 whites. The 13 candidates on the city ballot included five African-Americans, yet turnout in West Ward 3 was 9.86 percent — 300 voters.

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Approximately 17,380 votes were submitted on the nearly 4,000 ballots that were cast, because voters could choose up to five candidates.

Of the 13 candidates, Heggins received the highest number of votes by election night — 2,152, or 12.38 percent of the total votes cast.

The next highest vote-getters that night were Post, with 2,140 votes or 12.31 percent; Alexander, with 1,768 or 10.17 percent; Sheffield, with 1,758 or 10.11 percent; and incumbent Brian Miller, with 1,696 or 9.75 percent.

Patricia Jones “P.J.” Ricks came in just behind, with 1,527 or 8.78 percent.

Kenny Hardin was the only incumbent who ran for reelection and lost his seat. He came in seventh place with 1,478 or 8.5 percent.

Six people on this year’s ballot also ran in 2015 — incumbents Alexander, Hardin, Miller and Post, and challengers Sheffield and Todd Paris.

It seems that, even for those who earned more votes in 2017 than they did in 2015, it was no guarantee of victory.

Hardin’s total grew by more than 200, but that was not enough to put him in the top five.

The second time was the charm for Sheffield, who won a council seat by drawing 678 more votes than she did in 2015. Post’s total also increased substantially, by 757 votes, to catapult him up. Miller’s total went up 204 votes.

The only repeat candidate who came in with fewer votes this year than in 2015 was Alexander. Her total went down by 68, slipping from 1,836 to 1,768.

In 2015, a year with lower turnout, 1,836 votes made Alexander the top vote-getter and led to her selection as mayor. This year, the top number was 2,152 — Heggins’ vote total.

As for Paris, his vote total increased by 154. He finished in 11th place both years.

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The shift in voting is most evident at the precinct level. In 2015, Alexander was top vote-getter in seven precincts; this year she led in one. Hardin led the ballot in four precincts in 2015; this year he led in none.

Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Blackwell, who did not seek re-election this year, was tops in three precincts in 2015. The largest of them was West Ward 2, which includes the Fulton Heights neighborhood where Blackwell lives. That precinct was led this year by Heggins, with Sheffield (who lives in the precinct) and Post close behind; their totals were 255, 254 and 252, respectively.

Overall this year, Heggins was top vote-getter in seven precincts, Post in five and Sheffield in one.

Sheffield led in West Ward 1, where Alexander lives and led the voting in 2015. The precinct includes West Square Historic District and votes at Rowan Public Library.

Two years ago, Alexander led the polling in three of the city’s largest predominantly white precincts — West Innes, North Ward and Milford Hills City. Post dominated in those precincts this year. West Innes is his home precinct.

The precincts where Hardin led in 2015 gave the greatest number of their votes to Heggins in 2017.

That included West Ward 3, the large West End precinct whose polling place is Miller Recreation Center. Hardin slipped from 178 votes there in 2015  to 162 in 2017. Heggins dominated this year, receiving 247 West Ward 3 votes. Latasha Wilks had her strongest showing there, with 152 votes.

Heggins lives in West Ward 3, Wilks in West Ward 2 and Hardin in Milford Hills County.

The other precincts whose top spot switched from Hardin to Heggins were Milford Hills County, North Locke and East Ward.

Miller, who lives in the West Innes precinct, got his biggest vote in North Ward, 334 votes. That’s also where Alexander got her highest number of votes, 347. Post led the precinct with 424 votes.

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Election officials always note that totals announced on election night are unofficial; the Board of Elections certifies the results more than a week later.

But attention has focused in the past few days on ballots that have not been counted yet — absentee ballots that arrived after the last elections board meeting, as well as provisional ballots cast on Election Day and held because there was some question about the voters’ eligibility or precinct.

According to Laura Russell of the Rowan County Board of Elections, there are at least 69 ballots still to be counted — 22 provisional and 47 mail-in absentees.

Russell also said that more could come in. The Board of Elections will continue receiving mail-in absentee ballots until Monday at 5 p.m., as long as the ballots are postmarked on or before Nov. 7. The board will count them on Tuesday.

Rowan County has 10 municipalities, and all had elections this year. The outstanding ballots probably are not all Salisbury ballots.

With only 12 votes separating Heggins’ and Posts’ totals in the City Council race, though, the uncounted ballots could have the biggest impact in Salisbury. The position of top vote-getter — and the person who, therefore, would traditionally be chosen mayor by the council — could change.

Although the mayor, like the rest of the City Council members, casts only one vote in council decisions, he or she gets to represent the city in local, statewide and national contexts. He or she is the face of Salisbury.