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Highly unusual: Independent candidate poised to run for Congress

Shelane Etchison has enough signatures to get on ballot and challenge Republican Rep. Richard Hudson

Shelane Etchison, unaffiliated candidate for North Carolina's 9th Congressional District election in 2024.
Shelane Etchison, unaffiliated candidate for North Carolina's 9th Congressional District election in 2024.
Shelane Etchison campaign Facebook

Voters in Fayetteville and the Piedmont area of North Carolina will see a rare thing on the ballots for Congress in the fall: An independent candidate running against the Democratic and Republican candidates in the 9th District.

According to updates published Saturday afternoon on the N.C. State Board of Elections website, unaffiliated candidate Shelane Etchison of Moore County in a petition drive collected more than enough signatures from registered voters for her to run in the November general election. She needed 7,460.

“We were able to collect an excess, a large excess number of signatures,” Etchison told CityView on Saturday. “So I really had no doubt that we would hit that number.”

Etchison will face incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson, whose residence is in Moore County, and Democratic candidate Nigel Bristow of Richmond County, which is outside the 9th District.

The 9th District runs from Hoke County and Fayetteville through Fort Liberty, Spring Lake and Moore County, and then up to Greensboro. It has part or all of seven counties.

As of Saturday, independent voters made up nearly 37% of North Carolina’s 7.45 million registered voters. The Democrats were in second place, with 32.3%. The Republicans were in third, with just over 30%.

Etchison overcame a steep hurdle

North Carolina made it easy for Hudson and Bristow to become candidates. Because they belong to the Republican and Democratic parties, all they had to do was fill out some paperwork in December with the Board of Elections. Hudson then had a primary in March, as another Republican also signed up.

Etchison isn’t a member of any of the state’s five government-approved political parties — the Democrats, the Republicans, the Libertarians, the Green Party and the No Labels party. Because she is unaffiliated, state law says she wasn’t allowed to simply sign up.

The law says independent candidates must collect thousands of signatures from voters if they want to get their names on the ballot. Etchison needed signatures from 1.5% of the registered voters who lived in the 9th District on Jan. 1. 

Etchison and her team of 69 staff and volunteers collected around 12,500 signatures, she said. These were turned in by a deadline of noon March 5.

“So far this petition process was a pretty good litmus test to gauge the electorate and how they feel in their openness to having options in November,” she said. “It was not difficult getting people to sign. They’re quite frustrated with the current state of politics, the gridlock in Congress.

“And if there’s ever been a time in our modern political history, 2024 is an election year where I believe people are more open than ever to be supporting non-traditional candidates like me and I believe that will all sort of reflect in our ability to fundraise,” she said.

Election workers have until April 9, this coming Tuesday, to vet the signatures and certify the total number of valid ones. By 3:40 p.m. Saturday, the workers confirmed 7,460 signatures were valid, the minimum Etchison needed, out of 11,889 reviewed.

By 6:35 p.m., 7,533 voter signatures were validated out of 12,008 reviewed, the Board of Elections website said.

Etchison said she emailed her team with the news.

“If anything, I just had a real moment of gratitude for them making this happen because it certainly took a lot of manpower and womanpower to get it done,” she said. “So that’s essentially kind of how I felt about this — hitting this number today.”

Unaffiliated candidates are unusual, and usually lose

Unaffiliated candidates sometimes get on the ballots in partisan elections in North Carolina, but it’s unclear if any ever have gotten on the ballot in a Congressional race.

In September 2022, political scientist Chris Cooper of Western Carolina University analyzed how often unaffiliated candidates run. “From 2010-2022, 261 Unaffiliated candidates ran for partisan offices in North Carolina, that’s 2.9% of the total number of candidates over that time period,” he wrote on the Old North State Politics blog.

None of the 261 candidates he found were running for Congress. Most ran for their county boards of commissioners, he said.

Out of the 261, only 33 unaffiliated who ran from 2010 to 2020 won their races, Cooper said — and nine of those 33 had no opponents.

In March, Cooper said on X (the social media platform that used to be called Twitter) that he was 95% sure that North Carolina had not had an unaffiliated Congressional candidate since the late 1970s, when North Carolina created the “unaffiliated” voter category.

9th District is designed to elect Republicans

The Republicans who have majority control of the N.C. General Assembly designed the 9th District to have a majority of voters within its boundaries who historically pick Republican candidates.

Etchison said she is prepared to surmount that history.

“I believe the people deserve another option,” she said. “I have the ability to do that and the will to do that. To me, that’s a win in, and of itself. But I’m absolutely moving along in my candidacy and this campaign with the goal of winning in November.”

Senior reporter Paul Woolverton can be reached at 910-261-4710 and pwoolverton@cityviewnc.com.

This story was made possible by contributions to CityView News Fund, a 501c3 charitable organization committed to an informed democracy.

election 2024, 9th district, congress, unaffiliated, hudson