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TOP STORIES: A Look At Unique Election Results

By Scott Nunn, posted Dec 18, 2020
New Hanover County Board of Elections workers fielded more absentee ballots this year. (Photo by Michael Cline Spencer)
New Hanover County voters leaned Democratic at the top of the ticket in the 2020 General Election, but, as with many other states and locales, the coattails of federal and statewide candidates didn’t extend far into races closer to home. Two open seats on the county board of commissioners remained occupied by Republicans, and the GOP fared well in the area’s General Assembly elections.
 
As with much of everything else in the Year of COVID, the 2020 general election was one like no other – not so much in its final outcome but in how the results actually were reached.
 
Consider this: In New Hanover County, of the nearly 132,000 total votes, only about 17,000 were cast on Election Day. In a pattern that played out nationwide, supporters of Donald Trump came out in force on Election Day. The president received 9,853 votes in New Hanover County on Nov. 3, easily beating Joe Biden’s 6,426. Trump also won the in-person early voting (technically considered absentee), with about 46,000 votes compared to about 40,000 for Biden.
 
Absentee by-mail voting was a completely different story, however, with Biden receiving about 19,600 votes compared to about 7,300 for Trump, enough for Biden to win the county by a 2% margin. (Trump carried North Carolina by a margin of 49.9% to 48.6%, winning 75 of the state’s 100 counties. Biden won in all of North Carolina’s largest counties).
 
Compare the 2020 methods of voting to 2016, when only about 5,000 votes were cast absentee by-mail (number split almost exactly half for Trump and opponent Hillary Clinton). Most voting in 2016 still was via in-person early voting (70,343) and 35,668 voted on Election Day.
 
A similar scenario also played out in New Hanover County in the race for governor, with Republican Dan Forest getting the most votes on Election Day (9,213 compared to Roy Cooper’s 6,973) as well as from early voting (43,454 to 42,053). Cooper’s 20,338 to 6,451 margin in absentee by-mail votes easily got him re-elected by a comfortable margin of 53% to Forest’s 45%. Statewide, Cooper’s margin was 51.5% to Forest’s 47%.
 
New Hanover County voters also favored Democrat Cal Cunningham over incumbent Thom Tillis for U.S. Senate, although by a razor-thin 287 votes. Statewide, Tillis won, with a 49% to 47% margin.
 
Rep. David Rouzer was easily re-elected to represent North Carolina’s 7th District in the U.S. House. But, once again, New Hanover County was an outlier – Rouzer’s 20% margin of victory over Democrat Chris Ward was achieved with only a 3% advantage in New Hanover.
 
In local races, Woody White and Pat Kuseck didn’t seek re-election as county commissioners, but fellow Republicans Bill Rivenbark and Deb Hays were elected to the five-member board. Jonathan Barfield barely defeated former commissioner Skip Watkins to keep Democrats in control, though Democratic board member Julia Boseman has at times voted with the other side on key issues, such as the NHRMC sale.

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