Today at noon marks the beginning of the filing period for the Democratic and Republican primaries on March 5, 2024.

In 2022, we had many contested primary races, in large part because David Price’s retirement from Congress set off a game of musical chairs that led to vacancies in our local state senate and house seats. We do not anticipate the same level of competitiveness this year. (Allen Buansi, our state house representative, has announced that he’s running running for re-election,  and we expect Graig Meyer, our state senator, to do the same. We’d be shocked if anyone challenges them).

But the Orange County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC for short) was not contested in 2022. Sally Greene, Jamezetta Bedford, Anna Richards, and Earl McKee all won their races by default, because no one bothered to challenge them. Unlike our municipal races, the county commission seats are partisan offices, which means that these seats are effectively decided in the Democratic primary in the spring, not in the November general election.

This time, four seats are up—Amy Fowler’s at large seat (which means everyone in the county can vote for her), Phyllis Portie-Ascott’s district 2 seat (which means that people living in the northern half of the county can vote for her), Anna Richards’s and Jean Hamilton’s district 1 seats (which means that people in southern Orange County can vote for them).  Note: Anna Richards was appointed by the BOCC to her seat in September 2021 after Mark Dorosin, who was elected in 2020, resigned. Richards then ran in 2022 to fill out the remainder of Dorosin’s term, which ends in 2024. 

Here’s what this looks like on a map:

A map of Orange County with the names of the current representatives.
A map of Orange County with the names of the current representatives.

Who is running for the Board of County Commission?

Filing opens at noon, but already the following candidates have announced:

Amy Fowler is running for re-election to the at-large seat.
Phyllis Portie-Ascott is running for re-election to one of the district 2 seats.
Jean Hamilton is running for re-election to one of the district 1 seats.

Update: Anna Richards will not be running for re-election.
Update (12/5): Marilyn Carter has announced that she is planning to run for one of the district 1 seats.

Why does the Orange County Commission matter?

Although it has a much lower profile in southern Orange County than our municipal governments, the Board of County Commission is important. Orange County collects more in tax revenue than our municipalities—84 cents for every $100 in valuation, compared to 57 cents in Chapel Hill and 60 cents in Carrboro—and is responsible for, among other things, funding public education, including the maintenance of our school buildings. (Chapel Hill and Carrboro pay an extra tax, 20 cents for every $100 in valuation, to supplement the county funding of our schools).

The county also contributes substantial resources to affordable housing and social services. The County also provided significant funding to the construction of the new library in downtown Carrboro. (Note: Jean Hamilton, who is running for reelection, voted against providing extra funding for the library in March 2022, along with Jamezetta Bedford.)

Southern Orange County residents needs to engage in county decision making.

Because the BOCC does not directly control land use decisions in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, many people do not follow their meetings, which are typically much quieter affairs than we see at the municipal level. But, the county can provide significant funding for goals that we all share, including monies for affordable housing, updated school buildings, social services, public transportation, and many other needs. Even though our county commission meets in northern Orange County (Hillsborough, which is actually in the center of the county), they represent all of us, and we in southern Orange County need to do a better job of engaging with our elected officials. That begins with a competitive election this March. The filing window closes on December 15.

In the last municipal election cycle, we helped increase turnout by over 20 percent. We're all volunteers who care deeply about Chapel Hill and Carrboro, and we're working to make Chapel Hill and Carrboro more vibrant, accessible, fun, and sustainable.  Please consider a small donation to help us keep our digital lights on, host events, and hire students to do data deep-dives.

Martin Johnson lives in Chapel Hill. He teaches film studies courses at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is also a member of NEXT Chapel Hill-Carrboro and the Bicycle Alliance of Chapel...