Civitas Review

Wake School Board Elections – what really happened


On Tuesday a political tsunami struck local politics in Wake County. The tsunami was not brought about by the usual players in politics such as political parties, unions or chambers of commerce. It was brought about by a grassroots effort that has been building for years and reached maturity on October 6, 2009. More about the grassroots later but first what happened.

The voters elected a slate of candidates opposed by local education power brokers. That list includes, among others, the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, Wake Education Partnership and The News & Observer. Candidates backed by those groups were not only shut-out at the ballot box, the most any of them could muster was 40.8% of the vote. One incumbent even finished third.

The Monday morning quarterbacks and losers are talking about it being a low turnout election:

      Lois Nixon, a retired environmental educator, lost to retired firefighter Debra Goldman in a Cary district that has had  frequent wrangles about reassignment, with some residents even suggesting that Cary should establish its own school district. Nixon blamed her loss in part on low turnout by people who approve of the way Wake County runs schools now.

This election actually saw a turnout up over 28% from the 2005 election. The lowest turnout district was the only one that did not produce a clear winner and a shift of 50 votes would have changed that outcome.  A higher turnout in district 2 would have meant a win on election night for John Tedesco . The numbers are below for the October 6th election.

Wake BOE

2009 Turnout

2005 Turnout

Turnout Increase

District 1




District 2




District 7




District 9








And why did turnout go up and the results happen the way they did? It was because a series of grassroots groups have been active and engaged and activated citizens and turned them into voters.

Those groups included WakeCARES which has been fighting for parental rights and a more responsive school system since the school bond campaign of 2006 that was led by Americans for Prosperity NC (full disclosure I was the State Director of AFPNC in 2006). These groups were preceded by Assignment by Choice  which fought for a rational assignment process and more parental choice in assignment.

The final push was delivered by Wake Schools Community Alliance which held organizing meetings throughout the county and supported candidates who supported their positions. The months of organizing and work could be seen in the larger turnouts and the huge margin of victory for all of their candidates. KUDOS TO THEM.

Should such important elections really be in an off year on an obscure date? If we truly want people participating they would be held on a normal election date and they would probably be partisan elections. In the meantime, the current system did not work out so well for the status-qou candidates so expect to hear all kinds of reasons why they lost and the dire consequences – none of which will be true.

2 Comments on this post

  • mike says:
    Oct 10 at 01:03

    Great Job!!! We are trying to do the same thing in Duval Co Fl.

  • WSCA says:
    Oct 16 at 18:38

    Hi Mike in Duval County, FL!
    Send us an email at if you are interested in sharing ideas!
    Wake Schools Community Alliance

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