Update, Oct. 11, 2019: Despite initial statements from Francis about a runoff election, he has decided not to follow through, citing the cost of doing so on Raleigh’s residents.
The city of Raleigh held municipal elections on Tuesday. They were marked by low turnout and resulted in a run-off Raleigh city council and mayoral election between attorney Charles Francis and former Raleigh City Council member Mary-Ann Baldwin.
Baldwin received 38% of the vote, with 20,755 total ballots cast, and Francis followed in second with 31% of the vote, with 16,910 ballots cast in his favor. Caroline Sullivan came in third, receiving 20% of the vote, then Zainab Baloch, Justin Sutton and George Knott, respectively, all receiving percentages of votes in the single digits. Runoffs are called when no candidate receives a majority of the vote.
According to the state Board of Elections, Raleigh voter turnout was 13%. The previous mayoral election that took place in 2017 had a 17% turnout.
In addition to the mayoral election, Raleigh voters elected three incumbents to the city council: David Cox, Nicole Stewart and Corey Branch; and two newcomers: Patrick Buffkin and David Knight. Two seats still remain undecided.
Baldwin, who previously served on the city council, discussed the main issues she will be focusing on in the coming days leading up to the runoff election, such as food and housing insecurity as well as better transit lines to serve Raleigh citizens.
“That's one of our issues, food insecurity and housing insecurity,” Baldwin said. “The same thing is happening at NC State. I think that as Raleigh continues to get more expensive, we'll see more and more of this. That's my number one priority, looking at housing affordability.”
In a statement, Baldwin said she has a proven track record of getting things done and she believes voters responded to that quality at the polls.
“I'm also honored to be the top vote-getter tonight,” Baldwin said. “This is awesome. It's really apparent to me that our message resonated with voters. I went around the city talking to lots of people about my experience on the city council. I spent 10 years there. I talked to them about the issues that I feel passionate about: housing affordability, transit, alleviation of congestion, job creation, helping our homeless. People said that's what matters to them.”
Francis said in the next 28 days leading up to the runoff election, he will focus on clarifying initiative and policy differences between himself and Baldwin. He said changes need to be made in the way the city council operates so Raleigh does not fall back to policies that failed communities in the past.
Additionally, Francis said that during the campaign period, he intends on reaching out to Baloch and her supporters to encourage them to stay involved. Francis said for students, he will respond to concerns about affordable housing and involve more young people in municipal government.
“I think housing is a huge issue for college students, for affordable housing while they are here in Raleigh,” Francis said. “I think that approving transits for when you are traveling outside of where the Wolfline goes... we probably should expand the free service for GoRaleigh to college students, not just the high school students. Most college students do not have a lot of money, and one of the differences between me and my possible opponent in the runoff is that I am going to listen and respond to everyone, not just a few people who have a lot of money.”
NC State students can already purchase GoPasses through NCSU Transportation that provide unlimited rides for $5 a year with the GoRaleigh, GoTriangle, GoCary and GoDurham bus services.
Incumbent Mayor Nancy McFarlane, who publicly endorsed Sullivan, said she was not surprised at the low turnout because of the success of Raleigh so far.
“It’s a really successful city,” McFarlane said. “For the most part, the economy is growing, people are working, kids are happy, the community is relatively safe. People take stuff for granted, and it’s not until something really hits them or there’s a specific issue or something in local elections, I think it really makes people turn out. They just assume things are going pretty good.”
McFarlane also discussed the importance of the election because of the divided city council and said she hopes new leadership will acknowledge what people love about the city and what they want to continue in the city.
Tom Barrie, professor of architecture at NC State, said he believes Baldwin is the right candidate to represent Raleigh.
“She's very experienced,” Barrie said. “She's served on the council a number of terms. She's tuned into the national issues that we are seeing happening in Raleigh. She understands the larger context of affordable housing, a sustainable future, innovation and transit. She gets that.”
Harley Payne, a first-year law student at Duke, said he supports Francis because of his deep understanding of policy issues and the communities those policy issues affect.
“Charles merges both of those things, and he has a wealth of knowledge and experience that lends to an understanding of the complexities of issues,” Payne said. “I think oftentimes we have politicians that give us vague promises, and I think from knowing Charles for just a few years, he is more committed to giving the right answer than giving the most easily palatable to the general public.”
At Pullen Community Center, the local polling center for all on-campus students and many off-campus students who live within the precinct, a total of 319 ballots were cast, with Baldwin receiving the plurality at 142 votes.
According to Stephen Truman, chief judge at precinct 0123, the Pullen precinct is unique because of the large presence of college students registered. Truman said there are almost 10,000 registered voters, but only a few hundred cast ballots on Tuesday.
Truman said there were cases where students showed up to vote at Pullen but couldn’t, because many students registered had moved to different locations off-campus. According to Truman, NC State offered Witherspoon Student Center as a voting site, but the arrangement wasn’t made in time to use for this election.
Alex Lentz, a first-year studying political science, discussed the importance of voting in local elections.
“It is very important for college students to be able to vote, because voting affects your future,” Lentz said. “You need to form this habit so you carry it over into the future, because you are the people who are going to make decisions, so you have to learn how to make the best decisions now.”
Rachael Davis contributed to the reporting of this article.