Elections are big deals in political science and there’s nothing that political scientist love more than using elections to test their theories.  Thinking about this primary season that we are now in however, reminds me more of natural science.  I’ll leave the scientific explanations to my colleague Jeff Danner, but I can’t help but see Newton’s “action – reaction” thing at work here.  The mind is a little fuzzy all these years later about all of the details, and I guess I could do the scholarly thing and look it up on that definitive source Wikipedia, but let’s just keep it simple: this primary season has races that really fit the “action – reaction” law.  Moreover, there are some other science things at work in this election too.

On February 29th (it was leap day, and I’ll not even attempt to explain the scientific reason why we have it!), filing for the May 8th party primaries closed, so we knew who was running.  Earlier, when the Board of Elections opened fillings on February 13th, there was a lot of excitement and even anxiety because of the political shocker of the year: on January 26th, Governor Beverly Perdue announced that she would not run for a second term.  And goodness, were there reactions!  Naturally, the common question was, “Who would file?”  Since another scientific truth is that nature abhors a vacuum, we could put our money on the fact that there would be people who would rush in.

So here’s how it went.  On the first day of filing, Bill Faison, to the surprise of only a few, signed up to run for governor.  By doing that, his House District 50 seat, which includes part of Chapel Hill and moves north through Orange County, was now an open seat.  Since we already know about that vacuum thing, Valarie Foushee filed to run to fill that seat the very same day.  As Valarie currently holds a seat on the Orange County Board of Commissioners, her decision not to run again (Valarie was first elected in 2004) created an open seat in Commissioner District 1.

Two people will be elected to represent District 1, and incumbent Pam Hemminger filed on February 13th to run for her second term.  The next day, Chapel Hill Town Council member Penny Rich also filed to run, and on February 20th, former Carrboro Board of Alderman member Mark Dorosin entered the race too.  Now here’s another scientific fact: three people competing for two seats means one can’t have the seat, so this will be what politicians call a real horse race.  Of course, we have to wonder if the usual incumbent’s advantage will work in this race, or could the sitting commissioner lose her seat.

If Ms. Rich wins, she would have to resign from the Chapel Hill Town Council, since we don’t allow people to hold two elected offices simultaneously (not that anyone is crazy enough to want to do it, are they?).  Her resignation would cause the other eight members to choose a new ninth member to serve for a year, and we all know from prior experience how much fun that “filling the vacancy” scientific process is.  If she doesn’t win, she would continue to serve the final year of her Council term.

The other reaction to note is that this many seats, whether held by incumbents or open, tend to draw other candidates.  Hence, you can go to the State Board of election website and see all of the people running for the various federal and state offices.  You can also go to the Orange County Board of Elections website to see who’s running in our State Senate, State House, County Commissioner, and Orange County Board of Education races.  What’s interesting this year is that, in some of our races, winning the Democratic primary will not be tantamount to being elected, as there are seats where the winning Democrat will face the winning Republican in the general election.  In contrast, the four incumbent District Court judges on our ballot are all running for the nonpartisan bench seats without opposition.

As the campaign season heats up and we experience the familiar process of campaign forums, meet and greets, letters to the editor, mailers, and campaign signs, we need to pay attention.  The national and statewide campaigns will spend tons on television and radio ads, but our local campaigns tend to be more direct.  This primary will also have increased attention and maybe participation because of Amendment 1 being on the ballot.  You can read the official explanation of the it by visiting this page.  People on both sides of the issue will spend small fortunes to get people out to vote for or against the constitutional amendment, and voter participation is a good thing.

It’s later than you think, so get familiar with the issues and with the candidates and their positions because on April 19th “One-Stop Voting” begins, and it ends on Saturday May 5th at 1 p.m.  Election Day is Tuesday May 8th.  Polls will open 6:30 a.m. and won’t close until 7:30 p.m. 

After the election, someone will claim they didn’t vote because they didn’t know anything about the candidates, or they were simply unaware of the election, or their one vote really didn’t matter, or tell you that it’s just a primary.  And folks, sad though it is, it’s as true as night follows day and as sure as the sun rising in the east.  And those are both scientific facts!