In March, incumbent Jennifer Moore decisively won an Orange County school board seat. She received more than 400 votes than the next vote-getter (Bonnie Hauser), a margin of more than 8 percent. If we lived in one of the 40 states where runoff elections are not allowed, that would have been that. A decisive victory, one that ensured that the progressive slate of candidates would flip the Orange County School Board and hold a majority.

Her victory was short-lived. North Carolina allows runoff elections, a relic leftover from the Jim Crow era. When Hauser asked for a runoff, the director of the Orange County Board of Elections noted that turnout in runoffs is typically around 10 percent of the original voter turnout. That lines up with what we know about runoffs.

As Reid Wilson writing in The Washington Post put it, “Those runoffs are low-turnout affairs, costly for cash-strapped state elections boards and draining for candidates who have to spend another month or two campaigning for the votes of a narrow segment of the electorate. These days, given Republican domination of the South, they can serve to elect the most conservative possible candidates.”

In the Orange County school board runoff race, that’s Bonnie Hauser. Though she’s a registered Democrat, Hauser hitched her wagon to a network of conservative organizations, as her campaign was buoyed by supporters of Moms for Liberty and local conservative groups that have fought for less inclusive policies.

Here’s where things get complicated: Moore stepped down from her school board seat last week, after being questioned about her doctorate degree. The email that circulated amongst elected officials and the media came from [email protected], which appears to be a pseudonym. That email address has been used before: to question the nomination of former Orange County School Board member Brenda Stephens, who is also Black, for a prestigious award from the North Carolina School Boards Association.

It’s disheartening that Moore’s doctorate degree does not exist. She is an accomplished person with multiple degrees, and has served her community well and for years. I’ll note: Moore has taken responsibility and stepped down from her current seat. Furthermore, she’s said she will not serve if she receives the most votes in the May runoff.

In that case, the incoming school board would appoint a candidate to serve out the next term. Because of the makeup of the incoming board, that appointment would not go to a conservative-backed candidate or a progressive-backed candidate: it would go to a consensus candidate, who would break up the conservative board majority.

This is closer to what Orange County voters stated they wanted in the original March election: they made clear that they wanted less conservative candidates on the school board. At the end of the day, that’s what will ensure that all kids in the Orange County community are served well and valued.

In politics, issues can be flattened and reduced to an “either/or.” But multiple things can be true at the same time, and complex issues are not easily reduced to a binary. Neither should the way we approach our community’s decision makers, especially in a runoff election that’s been unfortunately reduced to a binary.

There are multiple truths here.

One is this: Over the past week, some of the conservative groups and people who backed Hauser and her slate in the original race have shifted from using coded terms to flat-out racist ones. It’s gross.

On social media, the loudest people cheering Moore’s board departure are the conservatives who want to take over Orange County Schools and who worked to oust the district’s previous equity-focused superintendent, Monique Felder.  A recent op-ed writer cheering the latest developments is also a loud and vocal supporter of former school board candidate Penny Carter King, who received training from the NC Values Coalition, which “exists to build a coalition of Christians across North Carolina that values life, family, and religious freedom.” (Hauser donated $150 to King’s campaign.) Yesterday, Hauser posted the op-ed from King’s supporter on her Facebook page, thanking them for showing “how a vote for Bonnie fits with our values.”

Those values are from an emboldened conservative movement and part of a broader political movement to de-legitimize public education using language that would be familiar in districts that are much more conservative.

Don’t let them.

Here’s another truth: There’s a lot at stake here. As upsetting as this situation feels, it’s important to center the wellbeing of students – all students – in the district. At the end of the day, that’s what we all want: for all kids to be served well and valued.

A vote for Moore is a vote against Hauser and a conservative majority. It’s a vote that centers students, it’s a vote that acknowledges what voters originally voted for in March, and it’s a vote that moves Orange County in a better direction.

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Melody Kramer is a Peabody-award winning journalist whose work has appeared on NPR and member stations around the country, as well as in publications ranging from National Geographic to Esquire Magazine....