It's not easy being unaffiliated. How a North Carolina candidate made it on the ballot

Danielle Battaglia, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in Political News

For the first time in modern North Carolina history, an unaffiliated candidate has made her way onto the ballot to run for Congress.

That’s according to an expert who closely monitors state politics and marvels at the achievement of Shelane Etchison. Chris Cooper says the system is set up for Republican and Democratic candidates to succeed.

“It is a Herculean feat to get on the ballot in the first place, if you’re an unaffiliated candidate,” said Cooper, a political science professor at Western Carolina University, ”and that’s why it’s not an accident she’s the first. If it were easy, we would have had this conversation before.”

Etchison gathered the required 7,460 signatures needed to appear on the North Carolina ballot. She will now face off against Republican incumbent Richard Hudson and Democrat Nigel Bristow to represent North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District.

The 9th District runs up the middle of the state and includes Alamance, Hoke, Moore, Randolph and parts of Chatham, Cumberland and Guilford counties. It was drawn by state lawmakers to strongly favor a Republican win.

Cooper said between 2010-2020, fewer than 3% of candidates have been unaffiliated. Those candidates have won 33 times, but nine of the candidates did not face opposition.


Thomas Mills, Etchison’s campaign adviser, said he learned a lot trying to get her verified as an unaffiliated candidate. One of his key tips is to collect twice as many signatures as needed.

Mills said because of the district’s large size they set up two operations: one in Alamance County and one around Moore County.

The campaign would go to highly populated areas and ask for people’s signatures. Once they gathered enough signatures they would deliver them in batches to the state board of elections, which would then send them to the county boards for verification.

They quickly realized that when they went to large populated areas, people often were coming from other parts of the state and signing, but those signatures wouldn’t count. Or they would get people from the same county, but outside the district and those would be thrown out. Some people thought they were in the district, but were in a different one. Others would unintentionally use their nickname or misstate their address, and that could cause problems.


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