Types of Elections

General Overview

The North Carolina State Board of Elections helps counties conduct elections across the state every year. These elections can be broadly divided into two categories: Statewide elections and municipal elections.

Statewide Elections

Statewide general elections take place every two years on the Tuesday following the first Monday of November. This means they can occur as early as November 2 or as late as November 8, depending on when the first Monday falls. Statewide general elections always occur in even-numbered years.

Statewide primaries occur on the Tuesday following the first Monday in March preceding the November general election.

Although the presidential contest is the most notable contest voted on during statewide general elections, the North Carolina General Statutes outline other national, state, and county offices to be voted on during a statewide general election. Those offices are:

Office Term Length
United States Senator 6 years
United States Representative 2 years
Governor 4 years
Lieutenant Governor 4 years
Secretary of State 4 years
State Auditor 4 years
State Treasurer 4 years
Superintendent of Public Instruction 4 years
Attorney General 4 years
Commissioner of Agriculture 4 years
Commissioner of Labor 4 years
Commissioner of Insurance 4 years
All other state officers whose terms are not specified by law 2 years
Office Term Length
North Carolina State Senator 2 years
North Carolina State Representative 2 years
North Carolina Supreme Court Justice 8 years
Court of Appeals Judge 8 years
Superior Court Judge 8 years
District Court Judge 4 years
District Attorney 4 years
County Commissioner Varies by county
Clerk of Superior Court 4 years
Register of Deeds 4 years
Sheriff 4 years
All other elected county officials Varies

Municipal Elections

During odd-numbered years, most municipal elections are held to elect governing officials (mayor, city council, town council, etc.) of cities, villages and towns. Not all municipalities will have an election in a given odd-numbered year. Some municipalities elect their officials in even-numbered years.

Although county boards of election conduct municipal elections, only residents of the municipality may vote in the election. These voters must have lived in the municipality for at least 30 days before Election Day.

North Carolina law allows for four different types of municipal election methods. These four methods are described in Chapter 163, Article 24 of the North Carolina General Statutes. A municipality’s chosen method of election is codified in its charter but must be one of the four types outlined in State law.

Election Method and Governing Statute Description
Partisan primary and election method N.C.G.S.  § 163-291 This method is similar to the primary and statewide general election. If more candidates file for a party nomination than the number of seats for that contest, then these candidates must compete in a partisan primary election that is held in September. If there is no clear winner in a primary contest, there may need to be a second primary that will be held in October. The general election (with one candidate from each party per seat on the ballot) is held in November.
Nonpartisan primary and election method N.C.G.S.  § 163-294 These contests are non-partisan, which means that each candidate's party affiliation will not be printed on the ballot. If there are more than two candidates for a single office or the number of candidates for a group of offices is greater than twice the number of seats to be elected, there will be a primary election. The primary will trim the number of candidates down to twice the number of seats. For example, if 7 candidates are running for 2 seats, the top 4 vote-getters in the primary would advance to the general election in November. If needed, the primary would occur in October before the general election in November.
Nonpartisan plurality method N.C.G.S.  § 163-292 This is the most common municipal election method. All candidates for a position are listed on the ballot, without party affiliation. The top vote-getters are elected, regardless of whether or not they received a majority of votes cast. If the contest is for more than one seat, the person or persons receiving the next-highest vote totals are also elected. For example, if 7 candidates are running for 2 seats, the candidates that finish first and second are elected. The general election is held in November and there is no primary.
Nonpartisan election and runoff method N.C.G.S.  § 163-293 This method is largely the same as the nonpartisan plurality method, with one important distinction. If a winner in these elections does not receive a majority (50%+) of the votes, the candidate who came in second is allowed to ask for a runoff. In these runoff elections, all candidates are eliminated except the plurality winner and the runner-up. Those two then run head-to-head in the runoff, with the winner being given the seat. The election is held in October, and any runoff elections are held in November.

See your county board’s website for more details.