Voter Turnout High In NC, But Some Races Higher Than Others

Nov 13, 2018
Originally published on November 15, 2018 10:53 am

Voter turnout in North Carolina was exceptionally high in 2018, but some races drew more attention than others.

More than 52 percent of registered North Carolina voters cast a ballot this year. That's higher than the 47 percent figure nationwide and the 44 percent turnout for North Carolina in 2014, the last mid-term election.

But voters can pat themselves on the back even harder, if they'd like. This year was a "blue moon" election, meaning there wasn't a high statewide election for president or senate. That happens once only every 12 years. In 2006, the last blue moon election, turnout was lower than 37 percent.

North Carolina voter turnout in 2018 was still lower than every presidential election in recent memory, but higher than every midterm since 1990, a year that stands out because of its unusually high turnout. In that year, Sen. Jesse Helms defeated Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt to claim his fourth senate term.

However, turning out to vote, and voting for every race are two different things. Including down ballot races, some Wake County residents had the option to fill in as many as 30 bubbles. Even without presidential or senate races, North Carolina voters still considered 10 statewide measures, four judicial races and six referenda.

In the judicial races, Democrats won all four races, with similar – though not identical – voter turnout. In the referenda, four passed and two failed, but turnout for these questions was disparate.

The ballot measure to require photo identification to vote received the highest turnout of any statewide race, with 3.65 million. That means that 98.3 percent of North Carolinians who filled out any part of a ballot, also voted in this race.

The two referenda that failed, however, saw a lower turnout. However, because the referenda that failed saw higher margins of victory, they had more total votes against. The referenda to require photo identification to vote passed by the slimmest margins of the referenda.

When any race on a ballot receives fewer votes, political scientists call this "undervoting." Jonathan Kappler is the executive director of N.C. FreeEnterprise Foundation and said the referenda that saw fewer votes didn't surprise him. For one, the photo identification and other referenda that passed are easier to understand, while the two referenda pertaining to executive powers were more wordy. Also, there was no organized support in favor of those amendments, while all living North Carolina governors banded together to oppose them.

"Doesn’t seem to me that voters were ever given a compelling reason to approve those," said Kappler. "And perhaps the five former governors specifically opposing them had some specific impact on the no vote or vote against for those two."

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