Durham voters talk important issues, voting law changes as they cast Super Tuesday primary ballots

<p>A resident votes at the polling site for Precinct 17 at the Durham Public Library in the 2022 midterm elections.</p>

A resident votes at the polling site for Precinct 17 at the Durham Public Library in the 2022 midterm elections.

Durham residents went to the polls Tuesday to cast their votes in North Carolina’s primary election.  

North Carolina was one of 15 states to hold its primary on Super Tuesday, a day with the most concurrent primary elections and over a third of available delegates for Republican and Democratic nominations at stake. Municipal, state and federal races were all on Durham’s ballot.

Polling locations were open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., at which point election officials began counting the ballots. 

All eyes were on battleground state North Carolina to see if Nikki Haley, former ambassador to the United Nations and former governor of South Carolina, would stage an upset against former president Donald Trump for the GOP presidential nominee. However, the Associated Press called the race in Trump’s favor shortly after the polls closed, adding even more pressure for Haley to end her campaign.

The Chronicle’s full summary of North Carolina’s election results can be found here.

The North Carolina State Board of Elections reported 124,618 Democrats and 23,415 Republicans registered to vote in Durham as of Feb. 10. Over 50,000 Durham voters cast their ballots for the Democratic primary, while about 13,700 voters did so for Durham’s Republican primary. 

The Chronicle went to the polls on Tuesday to speak to voters and find out what issues are bringing Durham residents to the ballot box.

Biden v. ‘no preference’

For many Durham voters who spoke to The Chronicle, the most pressing question by far was the role the United States should play in facilitating a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip.

The ongoing Israel-Hamas war has been a contentious topic in U.S. politics since it began on Oct. 7 with the Hamas-led attack on Israel. Pro-Palestinian activists have been mobilizing across the country for months in support of a cease-fire resolution, and several groups in Durham have organized demonstrations calling on the Biden administration to play an active role in facilitating negotiations.

Many North Carolinian groups endorsed the “No Preference, Y’all” movement in advance of Super Tuesday. The campaign’s goal is to persuade a large portion of the state’s Democratic constituency to select the “no preference” option on the primary ballot — the only other option for a presidential candidate besides President Joseph Biden — to encourage the administration to facilitate a cease-fire in Gaza.

With 97% of the votes tallied, 12.7% of N.C. Democratic primary voters cast their ballot for “No Preference,” following in the footsteps of Michigan’s 13% of primary voters who chose “uncommitted” last Tuesday.   

“I really don’t agree with what’s happening in the Middle East right now, and [I] think that Gaza needs a cease-fire immediately,” said Nicole Clickerman, a voter at George Watts Elementary School.

Clickerman also said she was disheartened by how the U.S. waited until last Saturday to begin airdropping aid into Gaza, adding that she believes “we just don’t have a candidate for president from the Democratic side right now.”

“My vote today is hopefully showing our government that complacency is not okay and that they need to take action, and I’m tired of my tax dollars going towards weapons and bombs and soldiers fighting towards the death of women and children,” Clickerman said.

“The administration needs to understand that a major portion of their voting block does not support military backing of the war in Gaza … not all nation states have the right to American taxpayer dollars to defend their border,” said Claire Caldwell, a voter at Durham School of the Arts. 

Caldwell voted “no preference” for the primary candidate, and went on to say that she’s “hoping the Biden administration will receive the message.” 

Other Durham voters echoed these sentiments. Nadine Bir, a member of local group Mothers for Ceasefire, came to George Watts early in the morning both to vote and to distribute leaflets asking other voters to consider joining the “no preference” movement.

“Even though overall we support the Democratic Party — [that’s] where we stand on most issues, progressive issues — we want to show him that the people do not support the actions he’s taking in support of Israel and that we want him to stop the genocide in Palestine,” Bir said.

Bir noted that although she is mobilizing against Biden in the primary election, she plans to vote for him in November if he is faced by Trump, as recent opinion polls predict. Courtney Hayes, who also voted Tuesday morning at George Watts, agreed.

“I think [Biden’s] values align more with mine,” Hayes said. “Even though no candidate is perfect, I think he’s closer to the future that I would want.”

Other voters voiced direct support for Biden, like Clay Bordley, a pediatric emergency medicine specialist at Duke Hospital.

For Bordley, his concern for the Biden administration rests in its seeming inability to encourage young voters to flock to the polls, saying that he “keeps young people from getting excited about participating.” 

“I think he’s been a great president,” Bordley said after casting his ballot at the Durham School of the Arts. “He doesn’t get enough credit for it.”

Local priorities

Many voters showed up out of concern for local issues rather than national ones. Christin Bothe, a high school teacher in Durham, is prioritizing the future of schools. She wants representatives for teachers, bus drivers and “everywhere in between.” 

Bothe expressed that while she has strong personal political views, her work with teenagers has shown her the importance of keeping an open mind and being able to respectfully entertain other viewpoints.

“I learned a lot from high schoolers because they remind me what it looks like to be friends with people you think differently than,” Bothe said. “It's those differences and actually talking about things — I often am trying to teach them how to do that when they actually do it better.”

Rob Cushman described his views outside of Durham School of the Arts while wearing an American flag bowtie. 

Cushman votes blue, noting that he identifies as “fiscal conservative, but a progressive on most other things.” He described the behavior of the Democratic Party as responsible, referring to Republicans as “obstructionists.” 

“I vote with the economy,” Cushman confidently said. “I’m appalled with the threat that Republicans pose.”

Many parents, like Sarah Guidi, shaped their ballots around their kids. 

The district was the site of major controversy in recent months, after DPS informed classified staff members they were accidentally overpaid. The pay dispute sparked a series of school closures, protests and contentious board meetings. The DPS Board of Education voted Feb. 22 to approve a salary plan for the rest of the 2023-24 academic year, but not before Chief Financial Officer Paul LeSieur and Superintendent Pascal Mubenga resigned from their respective positions.

“My kid goes to Durham Public Schools, so [I’m] just thinking about superintendents,” Guidi said. Her young daughter walked with her into Durham School of the Arts as she cast her ballot.

North Carolina Superintendent for Public Instruction, five seats on the Durham County Board of Commissioners and four seats on the county’s Board of Education were on Tuesday’s ballot.

Recent voting law changes

North Carolinians faced a number of changes to voting laws under Senate Bill 747, which went into full effect on Jan. 1 after an Aug. 24, 2023 veto by Gov. Roy Cooper was overruled by the North Carolina General Assembly on Oct. 10. The new law — largely backed by Republican lawmakers — features stricter ID requirements and mail-in ballot procedures.

Tuesday’s primary marked the first election where North Carolina voters were required to present a photo ID in person, after enforcement of a 2018 law stipulating the change was delayed by lawsuits. Absentee voters are now required to include a copy of their photo ID in the envelope containing their ballot.

Additionally, any mail-in ballots received after 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday will not be counted even if they are postmarked on or before March 5, a change from the previous three-day grace period.

The changes were largely motivated by former President Donald Trump’s claims of election fraud in the 2020 presidential election, which have been repeatedly disproven. According to a joint statement by Republican Senators Paul Newton and Warren Daniel, the bill’s principal sponsors, the changes represent “commonsense reforms that restore faith in our elections.”

“Voters can go to the polls knowing that elections are being conducted in a fair, nonpartisan manner,” the senators said.

However, voters who spoke to The Chronicle Tuesday morning largely viewed the policy changes in a negative light, concerned that they could present obstacles to prospective voters who are not able to invest the time in ensuring that they’ve checked all the new boxes in advance of election day.

“I have privilege that I have documentation [and am] able to access a driver’s license, but it is upsetting … I know it is hard for people to have IDs that are valid, that aren’t expired,” said Bir. “It’s a shame that people can’t fully access their right to vote if they don’t have their ID.”

Sara Lipshutz, who also voted at E.K. Powe, recently moved to Durham and experienced significant difficulties when trying to register because of the many requirements.

“The first DMV I went to was closed, and then the second one had super long lines,” Lipshutz said. “I was able to register in time — got my ID — but I really had to prioritize that.”

She noted that the registration process in Durham was much more complicated than what she previously experienced in Chicago, where voting regulations were “so straightforward.”

Voter turnout in North Carolina has been trending down in recent years, with 51% of eligible voters showing up at the polls in 2020 compared to 53% in 2018. Early voter turnout in this year’s primary election was historically low at around 690,000 North Carolinians, or fewer than 10% of total registered voters. 

Zoe Kolenovsky profile
Zoe Kolenovsky | News Editor

Zoe Kolenovsky is a Trinity sophomore and news editor of The Chronicle's 120th volume.


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