Editorial: Three takeaways from local election night results

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 5, 2020

Rowan County’s unofficial election night results largely went as expected: Republicans won across the board.

This year’s election results, though, are no less historic as a result of a turnout percentage not seen in decades and a surprise school board result that created more questions than answered.

Here are some questions and takeaways from local results in Tuesday’s election:

• Rarely do candidates actively work to lose, but Susan Cox did exactly that and appears to have failed. Cox filed for re-election to the southeast area seat on the Rowan-Salisbury School Board and conceded and endorsed her opponent as soon as she felt that their views aligned, signaling that she was ready to move on to the next chapter of her life.

At one point, she publicly contemplated not running at all. But Cox couldn’t get her name off the ballot or shake her winning ways. Her unwanted success is either due to the fact that voters didn’t know she hoped to lose or because they didn’t care.

Cox says she will serve for an undetermined period of her term, but it’s worth wondering whether it might be best for Cox and/or the school board to make alternative plans for someone else to serve as much as possible of a term that Cox didn’t want. In the meantime, Cox may be hoping that the remaining absentee by mail and provisional ballots break just the right way and overcome her 902-vote margin.

• It’s not surprising at all that Rowan chose Republican candidates across the board, from president to judicial races. But it was a positive development that candidates from both major political parties benefited from significantly increased turnout.

The turnout in 2016 was 67.91% as compared to this year’s 75.10%, which could still change based on yet-to-be returned absentee by mail or provisional ballots.

The best example of the mutually beneficial turnout boost in the N.C. Commissioner of Insurance race — where Republican Mike Causey and Democrat Wayne Goodwin faced each other both years. In 2016, Causey received 40,643 votes in Rowan County and Goodwin received 20,919. In 2020, the same candidates saw their totals increase to 48,839 and 22,414, respectively

• Tarsha Ellis was beaten handily in her race for the deep red N.C. Senate District 33, but her campaign for office shouldn’t be ignored. According to election night results, Ellis outperformed the much-better-known Al Heggins in most precincts where both candidates were on the ballot (the state Senate district covers the whole county; the House district doesn’t). The difference between Ellis and Heggins ranged from just one to a few dozen per precinct.

In total, Ellis received 240 more votes than Heggins in their shared precincts.

Is Ellis’ better performance the result of ballot drop-off — when voters choose not to fill out their entire ballot and contribute fewer votes to local candidates? Unlikely. The Senate race was adjacent to the House race on the ballot. Also, in the shared precincts, more people voted in the House race than the Senate.

More likely, the difference is the result of voters’ opinions about Heggins’ time on the Salisbury City Council and proof that being an unknown candidate can sometimes have its benefits.