The number of voters registering in a major party continues to decline in North Carolina, even as the total number of registered voters in continues to rise. As of Nov. 2, there were 6,475,017 registered voters: 2,764,123 registered Democrats, 1,990,192 registered Republicans, 22,173 registered Libertarians, and 1,698,529 registered unaffiliated.
The decline in the percentage of voters registered as Republicans or Democrats reached a new record low of 42.69 percent. The number of unaffiliated voters is now at 26.23 percent and the Libertarian portion is at 0.34 percent.
The number of registered Libertarians, 22,173, while still proportionally small, is an historic high for the party.
The Democratic share of registered votes is now at a new record low of 42.69 percent, and the Republican portion is down to a low of 30.74 percent.
The significance of the growth in unaffiliated voters is made apparent by the fact that they outnumber the major party registered voters in half of the state's 100 counties. In three counties, Currituck, Transylvannia and Watauga, they outnumber both.
Unaffiliated voters are the second largest voting group in some of the state's most populous counties, including Durham, Cumberland, Mecklenburg, and Wake. In 34 counties they're second to the Democrats, and in 13 counties to the Republicans.
And in 20 other counties, unaffiliated voters are within five percent of overtaking either the Democrats or Republicans in voter registration.
“The precipitous rise of unaffiliated voters –that is, independent voters – speaks to the deep dissatisfaction among North Carolinians with parties in general, and the two major parties in particular,” notes Dr. Omar Ali, an historian and associate professor of African American Studies at the University of North Carolina Greensboro.
“I think the message coming from voters is the following: parties and their politicians are more concerned about getting themselves re-elected than representing the multiple interests of regular citizens. We declare our independence from the parties.”
Ali is co-founder of North Carolina Independents, a nonpartisan association of independent voters focused on political reform. The group is an affiliated of the national organization IndependentVoting.org.
The group is focused changing both the electoral process, to make it more inclusive of independent voters and candidates, and changing the way we talk about politics, to make it less divisive, antagonistic, and dogmatic, and more inclusive, open, and developmental.
“Changing both the structure of our electoral process to make it more inclusive of independent voters and candidates, even as we figure out new ways of talking about politics, is key to the structural and cultural and political changes we need in our state” Ali said.
NC Independents advocates for issues like ballot access reform, redistricting by a non-partisan body, and making election boards non-partisan.
Despite their numbers and dominance in many counties, in most elections no one can vote for an unaffiliated, or independent candidate in most elections because of North Carolina's restrictive ballot access laws.
For example, based on current registration numbers, an independent candidate for Wake County commissioner at-large will have to collect at least 25,920 valid signatures to get on the ballot, and pay the filing fee. That number will increase as voter registration increases, because it's based on four percent of the registered voters in the district. In contrast, all a Republican or Democrat will have to do is file for office and pay the filing fee.
An independent candidate for a statewide office, like governor, would have to collect more than 89,366 signatures, the same number required to put a new political party on the ballot.