Overall numbers are up, but we know less about the state’s voters than before
Before offering a profile of voter turnout in 2022 [check back in this space next week], it’s sobering to look at the changes in voter registration since the last mid-term election.
As readers can see by clicking here, I’ve prepared a spreadsheet that compares voter registration statewide and by county for 2018 and 2022 after officials add/subtract new registrants, deaths, moves, and list maintenance removals. Each county has two rows – the white row is 2022, the blue row is 2018.
Here are some observations:
** The current total of 7.4 million registered voters is an increase of 327,000 from 2018, but the number of self-identified Black voters has decreased by 50,000 in four years. White voters also declined (by 35,000) while the number of self-identified Asian and Hispanic voters increased significantly by 25% and 34% respectively.
** The number of voters who give no racial information when they register has soared to a total of 644,000 voters. That’s why Black and white voters are dropping. As others have said, not knowing who and where Black voters are in North Carolina is a huge problem for everything from planning voter ed/GOTV strategy to litigating voting rights claims to evaluating voter turnout by race. Some of the problem relates to DMV registrations, but major attention should be given to staff and volunteers asking registrants to fill out the whole registration form. (Lack of a complete Mailing Address on the form is also creating registration problems, especially for youth and voters of color.)
** Voters with an undesignated race are now more than 10% of the voters in Anson, Chatham, Cumberland, Durham, Harnett, Johnston, Onslow, Orange and Wake counties.
** Just as new people are not identifying their race, so too they are not choosing a party affiliation.The number of Unaffiliated voters has jumped by almost 400,000 in four years – ‘No Party’ is now the largest group of voters in North Carolina and in about 20 counties of all sizes, from Wake and Buncombe to Franklin and Perquimans. Meanwhile, the number of Democrats in the state has decreased by nearly 200,000 while Republicans have increased by more than 100,000.
** The Big 8 counties now have 42% or 2 out of 5 of North Carolina’s registered voters – Wake, Mecklenburg, Guilford, Forsyth, Durham, Cumberland, Buncombe and New Hanover. But the next 40 counties in size have 44%; they are more rural, suburban and Republican – and while some of the 40 counties are losing voters, overall they are growing about as fast as the Big 8, so they are maintaining their important vote share and political clout in the state; they range in vote size from Union (170,000), Gaston, Cabarrus and Johnston to Granville, Lee and Sampson (38,000).
** More than one third of the counties have lost voters since 2018, particularly in the poor Sandhills region (Anson to Columbus), northeast Black Belt, other eastern counties hit by hurricanes and outmigration, military-dependent Cumberland, and even some university counties where quicker list maintenance Removals have reduced voter rolls (Orange, Pitt, Watauga).
** Looking at age groups, the number of seniors over 65 has by far increased the most since 2018, and a whopping 62% of registered voters are now over 40. Elders are living longer; they lean conservative and turn out at the highest rates. But there are also 100,000 more young voters age 18-25 than there were in 2018; they are more diverse racially, more progressive and less sure of the value of voting. You can look through the spreadsheet and see where young voters are growing in numbers and as a share of the county’s total voters, e.g., in Alamance, Cabarrus, Catawba, Johnston, Union and Wake.
Note: The State Board of Elections provides weekly snapshots of registration by county here and also a much more detailed snapshot before each election on this page on the Board’s FTP site; by clicking on an election date, you can find files for voter registration data (voter_stats_xxxx.zip), provisional ballots, absentee/Early Voting ballots, details of election results, and the voter history/participation data for that election.
Bob Hall is the retired executive director of the advocacy group Democracy North Carolina and a veteran government and politics watchdog.