Charlotte-Mecklenburg voters make some noise

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As the dust began to settle in the early hours of Wednesday morning following what might kindly be called the most exhausting political season anyone can remember, a quick analysis of the vote totals for both the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County revealed at least three interesting sets of results that will keep the “pundit” class busy pontificating for some time to come. Let’s take a quick look at those items, and try to make some sense out of what kind of message area voters were trying to send.

Although not necessarily a new phenomenon, overall vote totals make it clear that Charlotte’s voters are now overwhelmingly Democrats. Moreover, they are now almost completely at odds, as far as their choices are concerned, with those who live in the county, not to mention the rest of the state. While most North Carolinians were busy pushing buttons choosing Republicans over Democrats where they were running against each other at virtually every level on the ballot, Charlotte’s continuing change in demographics has led to Democrats dominating virtually across the board. This is a continuation of what’s been happening here for decades — only more so. It’s a function of Charlotte continuing to attract people from around the country, possibly from more “liberal-leaning” states, but it’s also the case that Charlotte itself, inside the city limits, is becoming increasingly concentrated as far as the African-American population is concerned, and, as we all know, that particular demographic grouping tends to vote overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates.

What’s important about this — what’s significant in terms of how our lives might be affected — is that Charlotte’s residents will need to take this factor into account more and more as issues involving the city’s needs have to go before the General Assembly in Raleigh. If Charlotte’s elected leaders and/or representatives are all Democrats, that could have, at times, an adverse effect on things like funding requests for new roads, especially if those who would make those decisions are of the opposing party. Like it or not, now more than ever, Charlotte is virtually an island unto itself in voting overwhelmingly Democratic.

Second, several of the choices local voters made on Tuesday showed them to be much more sophisticated and knowledgeable about what might have been accurately described as some of the more arcane choices on the ballot - specifically the difference between the proposal brought forward by the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners to raise the sales-tax by a quarter-cent, and three Bond issues proposed by the Charlotte City Council. The sales-tax, which was to have gone largely to fund raises for school teachers, as well as provide funds for arts groups and libraries, was highly controversial, and there was a lot of concern prior to Tuesday’s vote that opposition to it would spread to, and defeat the Bonds. But that didn’t happen. The sales-tax was voted down by a solid and significant margin, 61 percent against, 39 percent for. But all three Bonds packages easily won approval, by as much as 70-30 percent margins. To be blunt, prior to the vote, it was difficult to find many people who believed the voters would bother to make the effort to understand the difference between the two categories of proposals.

Third, and perhaps most interesting of all, voters throughout the county have now sent not just a determined message to the members of the Board of County Commissioners, they’ve issued what might best be described as an ultimatum. They handed Commissioner-At-Large Pat Cotham the greatest number of votes in her category. Here’s why that might be seen as a “mandate,” something the entire Commission is now going to have to deal with:

By long-standing tradition, the person running for Commissioner-At-Large who gets the greatest number of votes and who is of the majority party is selected as Chairperson of the Commission, and in 2012, that person was Pat Cotham. But Cotham angered some of her fellow Commissioners by some of her moves, including the manner in which she handled the firing of former County Manager Harry Jones, and she was unceremoniously removed as Chairperson, and replaced with Trevor Fuller.

But Fuller’s time hasn’t gone so smoothly, either. In fact, it was Fuller who put the controversial sales-tax proposal on the ballot, engendering a great deal of controversy. On Tuesday, voters seemed to vindicate Cotham, and she was, once again, the top vote-getter, receiving more than 146,000 votes. Fuller came in third, with 124,000 votes. Ella Scarborough was second, with 128,000 votes. Which begs the question: Should Fuller continue as Chairperson? Or should the other commissioners now accede to the clear mandate from the voters, and reinstate Cotham?

Stand by for more on that. Meanwhile, the one last piece of significance in relation to Tuesday’s vote, and one in which it’s clear everyone is in agreement with, is that the onslaught of TV ads has finally stopped. And that makes us all winners.

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