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Voters turned out for local issues across WNC

Voters who turned out in Sylva were rewarded with potato soup from the Jackson County Democratic Party.
Lilly Knoepp
Voters who turned out in Sylva were rewarded with potato soup from the Jackson County Democratic Party.

Traditionally, turnout in non-presidential election years is much lower than presidential election years, but this weeks’ election was an exception in Western North Carolina.

“We get about 16% or so folks that are registered to turn out to vote. Very very low. It looks like we were up in 2023,” Chris Cooper, political expert at Western Carolina University said. “In the more competitive places we were over 20% over one in every five voters.”

The increase is part of the upward trend in political energy since 2020 caused by political energy, door-to-door campaigning and a focus on local issues, Cooper said.

“I think we're just in a little bit of an era where people are paying attention to politics for some bad reasons, right? Maybe they're scared. But I think they're also paying a little bit more attention in general,” Cooper said.

Even with the increase, a relatively small percentage of the population is registered to vote, Cooper said.

“One in every five probably shouldn't be something that we're celebrating about. [That’s] not exactly a great sign for American democracy and let's remember about half of these races that were uncontested,” Cooper said.

This was the first Election Day when voters needed to show a photo identification to vote. According to NC Board of Election’s records, most voters who didn’t bring their ID were able to cast a provisional ballot, Cooper said.

“The State Board of Elections keeps track of people that were turned away for ID,” Cooper said. “So if you showed up without an ID, there were ways to still be able to cast your vote, and it looks like a lot of folks were able to take advantage of that.”

Voter identification was required in the 2018 primary, but it may still be too soon to tell what, if any impact, the measure has on voting, Cooper said.

In local elections, because of specific local issues it can be hard to track exactly what drives high turnout in each municipal election. For example, in Sylva, the election seemed to revolve around the Highway 107 project.

Cooper said the importance of local issues drives home the impact that “friends and neighbors voting” had in the election.

“In some of these local races, it really is about getting your friends and neighbors to show up. It's less about running the ads or even mailers to some degree. It's who you know and who the people you know know - and can you get them to turn out,” he said.

The election results are still unofficial. The local Boards of Elections are still counting provisional ballots and absentee votes. Many local candidates won by only a few votes, so the last ballots can have a big impact. The election will be finalized by the state on November 17.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.