In 1996, only 12 percent of North Carolinians were registered as unaffiliated voters. Today, that number is 32 percent. Running for office without political affiliation may be one of the most challenging undertakings in all of politics.
Denton Lee III, 42, of the Cleveland community, knows how challenging it is to run unaffiliated. In order to run for the NC House of Representatives District 26 seat where he resides – an area that includes South Smithfield, Cleveland, Clayton, Archer Lodge, Corinth Holders, and the Riverwood area – he had to obtain the signatures from 4 percent of the registered voters in the district. That’s equal to 2,924 signatures from the more than 73,000 registered voters in the district.
To reach that number, Mr. Lee had to get well over 3,000 signatures because some of the signatures he turned in were unreadable or the signer was not properly registered. He also had to navigate a lack of citizen awareness of the unaffiliated candidate process; a process that, if successful, only allows an unaffiliated candidate to be added to the November ballot.
Mr. Lee said that many signers struggled to understand the process and were often skeptical of someone asking for their signature. Many declined he said.
After five months, many late nights, early mornings and soliciting help from friends and family, Lee turned in his last signatures on February 28th with four days to spare. The filing deadline for unaffiliated candidates was March 3rd.
Lee will now be on the November general election ballot with the incumbent Donna White, a Republican from Clayton, and Linda Bennett, a Democrat from Zebulon. He will be listed on the general election ballot as Unaffiliated.
So why go to that excruciating amount of work when he could have joined a party, paid his $140 filing fee, and simply competed in the primary against other candidates to see who would win the opportunity to challenge a member of the opposing party in the November election? “I find more reasons why I’m doing this every day,” Lee says.
“I believe there are many of us in the political middle who have been left behind by the two major political parties. It feels more and more like we are a country of combative enemies who simply denigrate and blame the opposing side rather than accept our differences and find ways to coexist. Being an independent means I always look at every side of an issue – without a political party telling me how to think or vote – and use that to seek common ground that accommodates a majority of citizens, not just one side. Because of the unbending partisanship in our state and federal governments, we all suffer from the legislative impasses that are now the hallmark of every single issue.”
“The second big reason I’m doing this is because I am a public school teacher, and for the past eight years I have seen firsthand the declining quality of education offered in our public schools, and it has nothing to do with the devotion and competence of our teachers. The decline has many culprits, but the education of our children will never be a partisan issue to me. I am genuinely concerned about the quality of education my young children will receive, and in a state where public education is a constitutional requirement, that should be unacceptable to all of us. A free and public education is the most important thing a developed nation can offer its citizens, and here in North Carolina, ours has become embarrassingly inadequate.”
Mr. Lee received his undergraduate degree in Business Management from the University of Mount Olive, and a Master of Arts in Teaching degree from East Carolina University. He is a math teacher at Smithfield-Selma High School. He and his wife, Megan, have three children, ages 14, 3, and 1.