Voters will decide Charlotte’s next mayor, City Council members starting Thursday

Alex Slitz/alslitz@charlotteobserver.com
·4 min read

Early voting in the election to decide Charlotte’s next mayor and City Council begins Thursday, with sites open around the city for about two weeks.

Three City Council districts and the four at-large seats are competitive. Mayor Vi Lyles faces a challenger in her bid for reelection. Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt and District 5 councilman Matt Newton are not running for reelection. Greg Phipps, who was appointed to the council, is also not running. Larken Egleston, the current District 1 representative, ran at-large but lost in the primary.

Why is the election in July?

It’s an off-year for municipal elections in Charlotte, and general elections typically aren’t held in the summer.

The election was pushed from 2021 because data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which the city needed to draw new City Council districts, was delayed amid the pandemic. The winners will serve shorter terms that normal because of the delay. The next general election will be back on schedule, in November 2023.

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Because of the delay, political insiders such as former Republican state legislator Charles Jeter and Charlotte Democratic operative Dan McCorkle have told The Charlotte Observer turnout might be low, possibly in the single digits. A slate of Republicans, led by councilman Tariq Bokhari and expected to be underdogs in the race, hope to benefit from lower turnout, Bokhari told the Observer in May.

Four City Council district races are decided because the candidates are running unopposed: Dante Anderson for District 1 in uptown, east Charlotte and areas just south of uptown; Renee’ Johnson for District 4 in northeast Charlotte; Marjorie Molina for District 5 in far east Charlotte, including the Albemarle Road corridor; and Ed Driggs for District 7 in the southernmost part of the city, which extends to the county line.

When is early voting?

Fourteen early voting sites are open to all registered voters. They are open from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. from Thursday through July 23. The polls are closed Saturday, July 9 and Sunday, July 10; and close early on July 23, at 3 p.m. For more information, visit the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections website at mecknc.gov/BOE or call 704-336-2133.

The deadline to register to vote on election day, July 26, was Friday. During early voting, though, people can register to vote at the polls and vote the same day.

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What to watch in the Charlotte City Council elections

There are five contested races: mayor; City Council at-large; and City Council districts 2, 3 and 6.

Mayor: Lyles is running for her third term. She’s up against Republican Stephanie de Sarachaga-Bilbao, a first-time candidate who works in finance. Like other Republicans on Bokhari’s slate, Sarachaga-Bilbao said she’d focus on public safety and managing Charlotte’s growth.

City Council District 2: Incumbent Democrat Malcolm Graham is running for reelection. His district includes much of northwest Charlotte. He’s up against Mary Lineberger Barnett, who says on her website that she’s lived in District 2 for more than 15 years and operated a small business with her husband.

Of the registered voters in District 2, about 59% are Democrats, 11% are Republicans and 30% are unaffiliated or belong to a third party.

City Council District 3: Incumbent Democrat Victoria Watlington, who is serving her first term, is running against Republican James H. Bowers, who describes himself as a “a conservative Republican and committed Christian husband, father and entrepreneur.”

District 3 also leans heavily Democratic. About 15% of registered voters in the west Charlotte district are Republicans.

City Council District 6: This race between Republican incumbent Bokhari and Democrat Stephanie Hand is expected to be the most competitive of the district races. The south Charlotte district has close to the same percentage of Republicans and Democrats, with unaffiliated and third-party voters making up the remainder.

Bokhari is running for his third term. Hand is a clergy member and has not run for public office before.

City Council at-large: Voters can choose four candidates in the at-large race. Eight are running — four Democrats and four Republicans.

Democrats Braxton Winston and Dimple Ajmera are running for reelection. LaWana Slack-Mayfield, who represented District 3 for eight years, is also running, as is James “Smuggie” Mitchell, a former city councilman who left office in early 2021 because of a potential business conflict.

The Democrats are up against four Republicans: David Merrill, a sales director; Kyle Luebke, an attorney; Charlie Mulligan, a technology entrepreneur; and Carrie Olinski, a physician assistant. All four are part of Bokhari’s slate and hope to gain Republican at-large representation in Charlotte for the first time since 2009.