Nov 6, 2023 - Education

Early voting for $2.5B school bond, local offices ends with around 40,000 ballots cast

november 2023 election charlotte city council cms board of education charlotte-mecklenburg schools bond refrendum bonds

Photo: Alexandria Sands/Axios

40,026 voters have cast ballots so far in an election that will decide the fate of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the makeup of the next board of education, and whether the GOP maintains its small presence on Charlotte City Council.

  • Tuesday is Election Day — the final opportunity to vote. Find your polling place here. Precincts are open between 6:30am to 7:30pm.

Why it matters: Perhaps the most consequential issue on the ballot, CMS’ school bond referendum will require a considerable property tax increase if passed. But if it fails, CMS could fall behind on building upkeep and construction of its facilities.

  • Voters will also elect (or re-elect) Charlotte’s mayor and council members, as well as the next at-large representatives on the school board. Residents in Mecklenburg’s other municipalities will elect officials to their bodies.

Here’s a closer look at the state of play in each Charlotte race.

Charlotte Mayor

Three-term Mayor Vi Lyles, a Democrat, is challenged by Republican Misun Kim and Libertarian Rob Yates.

In this Democrat-dominant city, Lyles has swept past elections and is expected to do so again. She won with 68% of the votes in July 2022.

Charlotte City Council At-Large

The at-large members represent all of Charlotte. Voters will pick four of five candidates.

Democrats Dimple Ajmera, James “Smuggie” Mitchell and LaWana Slack-Mayfield are all seeking reelection. Victoria Watlington, also a Democrat, currently represents District 3 but is running for an at-large seat.

Libertarian Steven J. DiFiore II is also in the race.

City Council District 6 – south Charlotte

As of Saturday, 2,813 Democrats and 1,769 Republicans had voted in what’s widely considered the hottest race on the ballot. Incumbent council member Tariq Bokhari, a Republican, and second-time candidate Stephanie Hand, a Democrat, are in a rematch. Among unaffiliated voters, there’s been 2,757 ballots cast.

That’s a notable difference from the last time Bokhari and Hand faced off. At the end of 2022 early voting, Democrats had cast about 430 more ballots than registered Republicans in District 6. Now the difference is over 1,000.

  • If Bokhari is ousted, Ed Driggs would be the only Republican representation on council. Driggs is unopposed this year.

Hand lost by just 357 votes in the July 2022 election. District 6 is made up of 41% unaffiliated voters, 30% registered Democrats and 29% Republicans.

  • Of note: Bokhari has raised substantially more in campaign dollars to defend his seat. He’s collected $221,000 compared to Hand’s $131,000, as The Ledger reported. The newsletter questioned whether Hand has in fact run airports as she’s repeatedly claimed.
  • The two went head to head on a WFAE’s Charlotte Talks last month. The fiery show ended with Hand indicating council members were gaining financially from their power position. Bokhari suggested such statements were slander.

City Council District 3 – West Charlotte

This race will determine who will replace Watlington. Tiawana Brown, a Democrat who runs a local nonprofit, is running against James H. Bowers, a Republican who served on the Charlotte Motor Vehicle Review Board for five years.

  • Only 13% of registered voters in District 3 are Republican. As of Saturday, 157 registered Republicans had voted early. The odds are in Brown’s favor.

CMS Board of Education

Voters will choose three of 14 candidates in a crowded school board race. With only one incumbent running, two new members are guaranteed to join the dais. Last year, voters elected five new members onto the board — likely out of frustration with some of the school district’s recent struggles, such as lagging student performance.

  • The new CMS board will be working with a relatively new superintendent, Crystal Hill.

In an attempt to stand out, three candidates are running together on the “CMS Unity Slate.” The slate has drawn a lot of attention, WFAE reported. Non-partisan policy organization Carolina Forward accused the candidates of being disguised Republicans.

Here are the candidates:

CMS’ $2.5B ask

Voters will weigh in on letting the county borrow $2.5 billion in bonds to pay the costs of constructing, improving, and renovating school facilities.

  • The referendum would help finance 30 projects. They include three new middle schools, a new Uptown magnet high school and an athletics facility. Most of the projects in the package are renovations and replacement buildings.
  • Opponents argue vulnerable residents who just endured the revaluation will suffer from a rise in taxes. The bonds will require the county to raise property taxes by 1 cent per $100 valuation at least three times through 2029. A group of African-American clergy members is trying to get residents to vote no on the bonds— they say gentrifying communities will bear the greatest increases.

Yes, but: If the referendum fails, CMS will probably have to neglect maintenance and delay construction projects until costs are more expensive. Proponents of the bonds suggest that could harm student achievements because they would learn in deteriorating conditions. It would force CMS’ continued reliance on portable classrooms.

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