Voter turnout in NC could be better

Published 3:46 pm Thursday, March 21, 2024

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North Carolina’s primary election was held earlier this month on March 5.

“Super Tuesday” is what everyone was calling it since several other states were also holding primaries on the same date. Personally, I think the name “Super Tuesday” sounds like some sort of made-up special day on a college campus where everyone gets together to discuss their favorite superheroes and maybe we all get free ice cream too. That sounds fun, right?

Alas, elections don’t come with free ice cream. Though maybe turnout would be higher if they did?

I’m not a math person, but I do enjoy looking at numbers and picking out patterns and trends, so recently, I’ve been looking at the voter turnout numbers from this primary.

According to the state Board of Elections website, only 24 percent of eligible voters went to the polls statewide. That’s about 1.7 million people out of a total of over 7.4 million registered voters in North Carolina.

Low turnout for primary elections isn’t too unusual. Turnout for the primary in 2022 (pushed to May that year thanks to legal battles over redrawn maps) was only 19.8 percent statewide. In 2020 – the last time we voted for president – the percentage of voters in the primary was 31 percent. (And, as a testament to how much the population of North Carolina is growing overall, there were only 6.9 million eligible voters that year.)

Before that, in the 2018 primary, turnout was at a terribly low 14 percent. But in 2016 – another presidential year – the turnout was 35 percent. (There were only 6.5 million eligible voters that year.)

There’s a presidential race again this year, so it’s a little surprising that the statewide turnout for the primary didn’t even hit 30 percent.

In our four-county Roanoke-Chowan area, however, the turnout was mostly a bit higher than the state average at least. Around 25 percent of Bertie County voters went to the polls for this primary, and the number was 28 percent in Gates County. Hertford County was the only one under the state’s number – hovering a little over 23 percent – but that’s still pretty close. And over in Northampton County, just over 35 percent of voters turned out for the primary.

Of the four counties, Northampton had two County Commissioner seats and four Board of Education seats on the ballot, so maybe that encouraged more people to come out and vote. The other counties had fewer local races.

But it wasn’t only local races on the ballot. We had everything from state legislators, judicial seats, congressional representatives, and statewide offices (ranging from things like the Governor and Superintendent of Public Instruction to the State Auditor, Treasurer, Insurance Commissioner, etc.)

No matter whether you voted in the Democrat or Republican primary, there were plenty of candidates to choose from. So, honestly, it’s a little disappointing to me to see such low turnout numbers. Not even close to 50 percent!

If you skipped out on the primary, you missed the chance to pick a candidate who will be moving on to the November general election. And for some races, only candidates from one particular party filed to run. So after the primary, they aren’t facing any other opposition in the general election.

I wonder why more people aren’t voting.

Voter ID is a new part of the voting process, and maybe some people were confused or concerned about that change. But it’s really just as simple as showing your driver’s license.

For those who might not have a driver’s license, there are plenty of other acceptable photo IDs that could be used – including getting a free “non-operator” ID card from the NC DMV or a free voter photo ID from your county’s board of elections.

If you’re still confused after that, there’s plenty of detailed information about voter ID at the state board of elections website ( or you can ask questions at your county’s elections office. (I have done that personally and it was easy to get the answer I needed!)

Even though the voter ID law might seem like an annoying obstacle to voting, if you make sure you’re informed ahead of time, you shouldn’t have any troubles.

And it helps that other things can make voting easier as well. I really appreciate One Stop early voting as a way to cast my ballot before Election Day. If you’re like me and hate waiting until the last minute to do things, early voting is an excellent opportunity to just get it over with.

The first time I utilized early voting was back when I was in college. Obviously, it would have been inconvenient to skip my classes and drive four hours home on a Tuesday to vote in the election that year, so I would have had to miss it. But the early voting period gave me a chance to vote while I was home for Fall Break instead.

It’s fine if people choose to vote on Election Day as usual, but I like that there’s a longer time period available for voting as well, so that everyone has more chances to fit voting into their busy schedules.

Our next election is on November 5 this year, which means everyone has plenty of time between now and then to learn more about the candidates for each race, make sure they have a voter ID, and put voting on their busy schedule – either on election day or beforehand.

According to the state board website, the statewide voter turnout for the last general election with a presidential race (in 2020) was 75 percent. And it was 69 percent in 2016.

Locally, the general election voter turnout numbers in 2020 were all just below the statewide percentage, with 74 percent in Bertie, 71 percent in Gates and Hertford counties, and just under 73 percent in Northampton.

Perhaps, we can push those numbers even higher in 2024. Every vote counts!

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at or 252-332-7206.