How North Carolina’s political parties choose their leaders

It sounds obvious, but it’s worth examining: The Republican Party and Democratic Party command tremendous power in North Carolina politics.

It’s virtually impossible to get elected without belonging to one of the two parties. And state law privileges the party organizations in a multitude of ways. For example, the party gets to choose who fills vacancies in the General Assembly.

That’s why the people who lead the two parties are so important. Here’s a guide to how the Republican Party and Democratic Party choose their leaders in North Carolina.

How North Carolina political parties are structured

While Rs and Ds do things differently, there are some commonalities in how the parties are structured.

State party. Starting at the top, each has a state organization structure with a State Executive Committee.

District organizations. Then, each party has committees that represent prosecutorial, judicial, Congressional and state House and state Senate districts. There aren’t super important and mainly exist to fulfill state law requirements on selecting people to fill vacancies.

County party. Each county has its own party organization, and it has the responsibility of fielding candidates for local elections. The county party has its own Executive Committee.

Precinct organizations. Within each county, every precinct has officers responsible for turning out voters to that polling place. Each precinct elects a committee with a chairman, vice-chairman and secretary to represent it and work with the county party.

Each county party holds a precinct meeting at the start of the election cycle. That leads to county conventions, and then to the state party convention.

When we describe how each party selects its leaders, we’ll start from the bottom because each level helps select the one above it.

How the N.C. Republican Party elects its leaders

Here’s how the NCGOP picks its officers, according to the most recent plan of organization.

Annual Precinct Meeting

In the month of February every year, the county party calls for the annual precinct meeting. Every registered Republican as of January 31 is entitled to cast a vote at this meeting.

In odd-numbered years, these voters elect the precinct committee. They serve two-year terms.

The annual precinct meeting voters also elect one delegate and one alternate to the county conventiona. Each precinct also gets to select one additional delegate per 100 registered Republican voters in that precinct.

County Convention

In March, each county party holds its county convention represented by the delegates elected in the annual precinct meetings.

Every year, these conventions adopt a plan of organization to send to the state party headquarters. In odd-numbered years, they elect a county chairman, vice chairman and secretary to serve a two-year term. These elections can get contentious.

The county convention also elects a delegate and an alternate to the state party convention, plus an additional delegate for every 250 registered Republican voters in the county. Then each county gets another delegate for every Republican state or national elected official in that county.

State Party Convention

The state Republican Party convention is held May or the first two weeks of June of odd-numbered years, made up of all the delegates selected at the county party conventions.

This is where the state party chairman and vice chairman is actually elected to serve a two-year term. In 2017, Republicans elected former Congressman Robin Hayes as state party chairman.

State Executive Committee. There is also a state executive committee but it doesn’t have as much power as the Democrat one. It’s made up of all the county chairman, the Republican delegation to Congress, and the Republican members of the General Assembly.

State Central Committee. This committee is made up of congressional district committee chairmen, executive committe members, and leaders of affiliate groups like the Young Republican Federation and the Republican Women’s Federation. The State Central Committee sets the budget for the state party organization and selects its executive director. The Republican Party executive director is currently Dallas Woodhouse.

How the N.C. Democratic Party elects its leaders

The state’s Democrats do things differently. While they have many of the same conventions, they don’t use them for the same things. Here’s how it works, according to the most recent plan of organization.

Annual Precinct Meeting

Just like Republicans, Democrats hold precinct meetings every year within each county. Any registered Democrat in that precinct is eligible to cast a vote at the annual precinct meeting.

In odd-numbered years, the Democrats elect five members to a precinct committee: a chair, vice chair, secretary/treasurer and then two members. The chair and vice chair are supposed to be of opposite genders and different races.

Each precinct also selects a delegate to cast votes at the county convention, one vote per every 100 Democratic votes cast for governor in the most recent election.

County Convention

Each county has an Democratic Party executive committee primarily made up of the chairs and vice chairs of the precinct committees and Democratic elected officials of the county. The precinct chairs or delegates cast votes at the county convention based on their vote totals in the last gubernatorial election.

From among the executive committee, Democrats elect a county chair, three vice chairs, a secretary and a treasurer. The chair and first vice chair must be of opposite genders and one of the executive committee officers must be a minority. One of the county officers also must be 36 years old or younger.

State Executive Committee

Instead of electing state party officers at the state convention, the N.C. Democratic Party does it early in the year within the state executive committee.

The state executive committee is made up of county chairs, elected officials, and an additional 450 members elected at county conventions. These members are apportioned based on Democratic votes for governor.

Each county must cast half its ballots for men and half for women.

This is a very important committee for Democrats. North Carolina Democrats only allow executive committee members to vote on the party’s top leaders and this generally happens in February.

This body elects the leaders of the North Carolina Democratic Party, including:

  • Chair
  • 1st Vice Chair
  • 2nd Vice Chair
  • 3rd Vice Chair
  • Secretary
  • Treasurer
  • Association of County Chairs Presidents

One officer must be an ethnic minority and one is required to be age 36 or younger.

In 2017, the state executive committee elected former state insurance commissioner Wayne Goodwin to be state party chairman.

State Party Convention. Held in June of even numbered years, this meeting is primarily used to outline the party platform for that year’s elections.

Cover image of an Avery County GOP convention via NCGOP chairman Michael Whatley on Facebook.

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