Early voting for the Nov. 2 general election gets underway Thursday at five different sites in Columbus County.
Early polls will be open at the county Board of Elections office, Chadbourn Town Hall, Fair Bluff Fire station, Tabor City Courthouse, and Ransom Community Center in Sandyfield.
Polls will be open for early voting from 8 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. weekdays, 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. Oct. 16 and Oct. 25, and 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. on Oct. 31.
On the ballot will be hotly contested races for county commissioner and school board, as well as state and U.S. House and Senate seats, state court justices and the presidential races between incumbent Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.
As of Wednesday, Carla Strickland of the Columbus County Board of Elections said 1,111 absentee ballots had been cast.
“It’s been busier than I have ever seen it,” Strickland said.
Lake Waccamaw voters will have three referenda on the ballot on premises sale and consumption of beer, wine and mixed drinks. Countywide, voters will decide whether to approve a two cents increase on property taxes to be used to provide Intermediate County Rescue service.
Local races could change the makeup of the county board of commissioners. Although Republican and unaffiliated voters have dramatically increased their rolls in the past year, Democrats are leading in absentee ballots returned to the elections office. All three Democrat incumbents on the commissioners are facing stout competition from Republican challengers. In one race, both candidates are newcomers.
Incumbent Democrat James Prevatte is facing Republican Chris Smith for the District 2 race. The Republican nomination for that race came after a new election was ordered by the state after concerns over four ballots that put former Board of Elections member Mack Ward ahead in the primary. Prevatte has faced controversy in recent days after riding in a truck in a Democrat party parade that also featured Black Lives Matter signs.
In District 3, Republican and former Highway Patrolman Ray Battle is up against longtime incumbent Democrat Giles “Buddy” Byrd. Battle recently received the endorsement of the N.C. State Troopers Association, an unusual move in a local race.
Byrd is awaiting trial on larceny and possession of stolen goods charges after he allegedly removed a storage barn from a site on a campground he owns. He is scheduled to return to court Nov. 2, the day before Election Day.
District 5 will see a change in whichever direction the results turn out: Republican Lavern Coleman defeated incumbent Edwin Russ for the Republican nomination in the primary. Democrat Rickie Garcia Rouse was tapped for the blue nominee after Russ, a longtime Democrat, changed parties last year. Russ has been supporting Rouse since Coleman won the Republican nod.
In District 5, incumbent Trent Burroughs is facing a surprisingly strong challenge from republican Brent Watts for that seat.
On the county school board, Joseph Bracy, Randy Coleman (son of Commissioner candidate Laverne Coleman) and Pamela Jacobs Young are vying for the seat Coleman currently holds.
Steve Long is unopposed for the County District 5 board of education post.
The city schools have one uncontested race – Greg Merritt for District 4 – While Kandle Rogers is facing a challenge from Chavis Lee “C.L.” McMillan.
Kandance Bullock is unopposed for Register of Deeds.
Gary Simmons and Pat Lovett are on the ballot for the Soil and Water Conservation Board, which is seeing more attention than usual in the wake of flooding from Hurricane Florence and a planned drainage improvement project for the entire county.
Mike Porter and Ronald McPherson are on the ballot for the Riegelwood Sanitary District Board.
Although state judiciary positions were briefly considered non-partisan in previous elections, the sharp divide between Republicans and Democrats, as well as multiple appointments by Gov. Roy Cooper, have both sides coming out swinging in what are usually considered minor races.
Cheri Beasley, a Democrat appointed by Cooper, is facing strong opposition by Republican Paul Newby for the state’s Chief Supreme Court Justice position.
Phillip Berger, a Republican, is facing Democrat Lucy Inman for the second seat on the state’s highest court, while Republican Tamara Barringer is facing incumbent Mark Woods, a Democrat.
On the state court of appeals, Tricia Shields (Democrat) is facing April Wood, a Republican. Fred Gore of Brunswick County, a former Superior Court judge and Republican in Columbus and Brunswick counties, is challenging Lora Christine Cabbage for Seat Five on appeals court bench. Republican Chris Dillon and Democrat Gray Styers Jr. are vying for Seat Six on the appeals court. Democrat Reuben F. Young and Republican Jeff Carpenter are in the running for Seat Seven on the appeals court. Democrat Chris Brook faces Republican Jefferson Griffin for the 13th seat.
Incumbent Republican State Sen. Danny Britt is facing Democrat Barbara Yates Lockamy for the 13th State Senate District, which includes Columbus. Republican Carson Smith, an incumbent from Pender, is squaring off against Democrat challenger Debbie Fintak, also from Pender County, for the State House seat 16, which represents much of eastern Columbus County.
Incumbent State House Rep. Brenden Jones of Tabor City is also facing a challenger in Democrat Tim Heath of Red springs for the District 46 seat.
Four District Court Judges – Pauline Hankins, Ashley Gore, Scott Ussery and Calvin Chandler – are unopposed.
Other positions on the ballot this fall are the governor and lt. governor; state auditor; commissioners of agriculture, insurance, and labor; secretary of state; superintendent of public instruction; and state treasurer; U.S. Senator and congressman; and President of the United States.