NC voter turnout in the midterms: What the data show for various groups

Photo: Getty Images

This report about voter turnout follows one from last week about changes in voter registration. This new spreadsheet – 12 pages – compares voter turnout statewide, by county and by voting groups for 2022 with 2018.

Turnout rate = Number of ballots cast divided by number of registered voters.

Each county has two rows on the spreadsheet – the white row is 2022, the blue row is 2018.

Here are some observations:

** Just over half of North Carolina’s registered voters cast ballots in 2022, while nearly half stayed home.  The overall turnout rate of 51% was 2 percentage points lower than the 53% rate in 2018, but the decline in participation was not uniform among groups by race, age or party.

** White voters actually turned out at a higher rate in 2022 than in 2018. In fact, the strong 63% turnout rate for white Democrats not only beat their 2018 level; it also beat the 61% rate for white Republicans this year.  Over 70% of registered white Democratic women and white Democratic men cast ballots in 2022 in Chatham, Durham, Orange and Wake counties.

** Meanwhile, turnout among self-identified Black voters dropped 6 points, from 48% in 2018 to 42% this year – with even larger declines for Black women and younger Black voters age 18-40.  Turnout of Black Democrats also dropped nearly 6 points, and so did participation by Democrats who registered without identifying their race. Because of those declines, the overall rate for all Democrats dropped from 54.5% in 2018 to 51.3% in 2022, even though turnout increased for white Democrats.  The surprising 8 point drop among Black women (from 53% in 2018 to 45% in 2022), with Cheri Beasley on the ballot, merits careful attention & listening.

** Statewide, the gap in turnout between white and Black voters soared to 16 points in 2022 (58% vs. 42%), compared to 8 points in 2018 and 5 points in 2014. Read more

Veteran democracy advocate: Latest North Carolina voter stats reveal some worrisome trends

Photo by Hill Street Studios/Getty Images.

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 (, 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.

Veteran NC government watchdog Bob Hall: GOP hypocrisy and the current controversies at the state Supreme Court

Senate leader Phil Berger, Sr.

Justice Phil Berger, Jr.

Chief Justice Paul Newby

Republican legislators have filed a formal motion calling on North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls, a Democrat, to recuse herself from the current redistricting litigation. Why? According to the Republicans’ press release, she “faces an insurmountable conflict” because her election was heavily supported by a donor with a partisan interest in the outcome of the redistricting case.

But the refusal of two Republican justices on the court to previously recuse themselves points up the rank hypocrisy of this attack on Earls.  The real reason GOP legislators want her removed is because, as a distinguished Black woman attorney with extensive expertise in racial and partisan gerrymandering, she will likely have an important role in formulating how the court majority rules in this case.

What’s more, two Republican justices have refused recusal in the past in response to similar, if not even more compelling, motions — current Chief Justice, Paul Newby, and Justice Phil Berger, Jr., the son of the leader of the state senate, Phil Berger Sr.

Consider the following:

** Nearly a decade ago, then Associate Justice Paul Newby refused to recuse himself during the legal challenges to the 2011 redistricting maps. The main rationale for requesting his recusal was that a major donor with a partisan interest in the case heavily bankrolled Newby’s election, i.e., a fact similar to the reason given by Republicans for demanding that Justice Earls recuse herself from the current redistricting case.

Briefly, the bulk of the money spent on Justice Newby’s 2012 reelection came from a super PAC whose biggest donor (about $1.2 million) was the National Republican Leadership Committee, the same GOP organization that had paid consultant and conservative redistricting guru Thomas Hofeller to draw the maps approved by Republican legislators in 2011. So the funder of the architect of the maps also funded the reelection of a state Supreme Court justice who then voted against the legal appeal challenging the maps in 2014. The North Carolina NAACP and others filed multiple motions for Newby’s recusal with the state Supreme Court in 2012 and 2013, but they were rejected.

** The major reason attorneys in a case challenging the actions of state lawmakers in placing a pair of constitutional amendments on the state ballot in 2018 sought Justice Berger’s recusal is because his father, state senate leader Phil Berger Sr., is a defendant in the case — a straightforward conflict for the son’s impartiality. In fact, the case largely deals with the legitimacy of his father’s power and position, i.e., whether Republicans legitimately won majority control of the General Assembly when it took the actions challenged in the lawsuit.

But there’s a major campaign financing conflict involving Justice Berger, too. The majority of the money he raised for his successful campaigns for North Carolina Court of Appeals in 2016 and for the state Supreme Court in 2020 depended heavily on his father’s position as leader of the state Senate and the most powerful Republican in North Carolina. How can the son rule impartially in a redistricting case that is all but certain to have a huge impact on the political fate of his major benefactor?

The campaign money Berger Jr. has raised going back to 2014 has largely come from the Republican Party and donors tied to political appointees and lobbyists who seek favorable treatment from Berger Sr., the Senate boss. Berger Sr. has even served as a featured speaker at Berger Jr.’s fundraisers. In fact, in a response to a complaint that I filed with the State Board of Elections, Berger Jr. had to amend his campaign reports to reveal two fundraising events that were paid for by political appointees and a third fundraiser at the home of a leading lobbyist – with Berger Sr. at each one.

The bottom line: If they truly believe what they’re saying, the Republican legislators who want Justice Earls removed from the redistricting case should first ask Justice Berger and Chief Justice Newby to recuse themselves.

Click here to see the recusal motion filed vis a vis Newby in 2012. The most relevant portions can be found on page 28.

Bob Hall is the retired executive director of the group Democracy North Carolina and a veteran government and politics watchdog.

Special-Interest PACs Guard Tax Loopholes

A new analysis shows that three dozen of North Carolina’s biggest political action committees (PACs) donated $7 million to state candidates and political parties in the last election – and now many of the groups are scrambling to make sure their interests, including tax breaks worth at least $1 billion a year, are not harmed in the new budget being hammered out in Raleigh.

The list of top PACs includes groups of developers, attorneys, university patrons, doctors, auto dealers, state employees, teachers, and beer wholesalers, as well as executives with blue-chip firms like Progress Energy, Wachovia, Blue Cross, AT&T, and Nationwide Insurance.

The analysis by the watchdog group Democracy North Carolina shows that legislative winners in 2008 received 94 percent of the $5.7 million the big PACs donated to all legislative candidates. The PACs also gave $770,000 to gubernatorial and other statewide candidates, as well as $590,000 to political party committees, much of which gets funneled into legislative races.

On September 16, 2008 the NC Realtors Association PAC sent 106 legislative candidates a total of $169,500 in donations. The same day, the NC Telephone Cooperative’s PAC sent $66,800 to 75 legislators.  The next day, the Blue Cross PAC sent $42,200 to 45 candidates and two weeks later, Bank of America’s PAC gave 84 legislative candidates $118,250. And on and on it went.

But now the budget crisis is forcing elected leaders to make hard choices that affect big donors and pit one powerful lobby against another.

Teachers are holding rallies against cuts in the education budget, and the NC Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association is running full-page ads against proposals to increase the tax on its products. Both groups have PACs that gave more than $100,000 in direct contributions in 2008, plus at least another $100,000 through affiliated groups and individuals.

Click here to read the report, which includes a list of the 36 leading PACs on page 4.

Data Highlight: Billboards versus trees

The billboard industry is not one of the 10 biggest spending special-interests groups, like the big banks, utilities, and developers — but it is one of the most persistent.  And the money is not insignificant.

The outdoor advertising industry, as it calls itself, is back in the NC General Assembly this year with a proposal to widen the swath of trees it can cut along public highways so motorists can see their signs.  Similar bills have failed before, but the industry is trying again and recently convinced a state House committee to go along. Conservation groups strongly oppose the bill (H-1583).  For background, see:

A new analysis by Democracy North Carolina shows that NC Outdoor Advertising Association’s political action committee (PAC) and industry officials donated more than $160,000 in the past four years (1/2005-12/2008). See our chart at:

Like many lobby groups, the billboard industry spreads its money around, giving dozens of lawmakers contributions, with the largest amounts reserved for the legislative leadership. For example, on April 30, 2008, the billboard PAC sent checks ranging from $500 to $2,000 to 34 legislators. A week later, it sent checks to 24 more. Altogether, the industry donated to more than 100 legislators and state officials during the 2006 and 2008 election cycles.

The industry does a good job of remembering its friends and targeting who gets left out.  Democracy North Carolina compared the Outdoor Association PAC’s list of 2008 NC House recipients to how these elected officials voted on the last major piece of legislation promoted by the billboard industry: H-429, a controversial bill that eventually became law and allows billboard companies to recover more money from local governments when their billboards violate new ordinances. Many of the House members who voted on H-429 in 2003 have left the legislature, but of those who ran for re-election in 2008, here’s who the billboard PAC supported or overlooked:

  • Of the 16 current House members who consistently voted against the industry’s bill in 2003, only 2 received an industry PAC donation for their 2008 campaign (the two are Rep. Joe Hackney, who is now Speaker, and Rep. Becky Carney, who now co-chairs the House Transportation Committee; both are crucial gatekeepers for legislation about highway billboards).
  • Of the 33 legislators who received an industry PAC donation in 2008 and who were in the House in 2003, 31 or 94% of the 33 voted with the industry.

This kind of tight correlation is another reason why reformers support providing candidates with an alternative way to finance their campaigns, such as through a Voter-Owned public financing program.