Candidates, former candidates, and grassroots activists converged on the Hal Marshall Annex building in Uptown Charlotte during the first day of in-person early voting in Mecklenburg County’s municipal elections on October 19.

Leaders from the Mecklenburg County Republican Party (MeckGOP) were also on hand to greet voters and advocate for why early voting matters.

Voters line up for early voting in Charlotte’s 2023 municipal election. Source: Zach Rounceville

“Republicans do not tend to early vote,” former Charlotte City Council at-large candidate Kyle Luebke told Carolina Journal at the early voting site. “We ideologically do not necessarily agree with early voting. We want to vote on election day because we want to get in the election day spirit. You are not helping a campaign by voting on election day. You’re actually hurting your candidates by voting on election day. All of your candidates that you want to win need to bank your votes so they don’t have to spend money to get you out to the polls. We need to start emphasizing to Republican voters that they need to early vote.”

Luebke also stressed the importance of voting in local elections, which he says are more important than those on the national level.

“Voting in municipal elections is more important than voting in presidential or congressional elections,” he said. “A lot of people don’t see that, Republicans and Democrats alike. People who are on your city council or on your school board are actually making decisions that impact you every single day versus somebody in Washington who doesn’t. That’s the way it’s designed and that’s the way it should be.”

In a large city like Charlotte where Republicans are outnumbered in registered voters, the MeckGOP aims to combat what they call ‘voter fatigue’ by encouraging as many GOP voters to head to the polls as they can.

Looking at the voting totals across both parties, Charlotte’s latest municipal primary only saw 23,676 (4.91 percent) of the county’s 482,577 eligible voters cast a ballot. This turnout was the third lowest Charlotte has seen in the last 15 years. Additionally, no Republican candidates appeared on the ballot for the City Council at large seats, which has not happened since the city council races became partisan in 1975.

MeckGOP Vice Chairman David Merrill told CJ that the party and its volunteers are trying to keep Republican voters engaged and upbeat about voting in local elections despite being outnumbered.

“When you have certain local media people pushing out information about who has voted so far, showing Democrats outnumbering us in registered voters, that can be discouraging for Republicans, so we’re trying to get as many Republicans as we can to come out and vote early so they’re not discouraged,” said Merrill. “We’re doing it to try and parlay against the 5 percent who turned out to vote in the Charlotte municipal Democratic primaries. If 5-6 percent of Democrats show up to vote this year and we get 12-14 percent of Republicans to show up, we should win every race.”

CJ also spoke with Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board candidate Bill Fountain. Fountain also believes it is important for people to vote early and to focus on local issues as opposed to national or international.

“Getting the word out is very important,” he said. “Too many people are focused on national and international issues. All politics is local. What happens in our homes is more important than what is going on nationally or internationally. We need to be more concerned about family. People need to be involved nationally, but they need to be involved at the local level as well.”

Fountain is running on a platform geared toward respect for the code of student conduct.

“As a former teacher, I know that you’ve got to have an orderly classroom in order for kids to learn,” Fountain said. “What I’m trying to push for is respect for the code of student conduct. It’s there, so why not have consistency throughout all the schools. That’s one of the things we’re not seeing. I built up leadership from the Air Force and the business world and I was also a teacher for 10 years.”

In spite of the lackluster turnout in recent elections, other MeckGOP leaders said they are putting in the work necessary for Republican candidates to succeed at the ballot box.

“We are doing precinct organization and taking it one step at a time instead of viewing the county as a whole because it’s overwhelming due to Mecklenburg being the second largest county in NC,” MeckGOP Chairwoman Lorena Castillo-Ritz told CJ. “We have precinct leaders and are going door to door, making phone calls, putting out signs, taking it a little bit at a time.”

In person early voting in Charlotte runs from October 19 to November 4.