Unaffiliated voters on the rise

Some area politicians and their supporters are urging voters to change their registrations from Democrat or Republican to unaffiliated before the primary election in May.

Changing one’s affiliation for the primary and then changing back is not a new idea. There are people who do it in every election for a variety of reasons. Many years ago if you were not affiliated with one of the two major parties you could not vote in the primary; now unaffiliated voters are allowed to choose which party’s ballot they want to vote for the primary.

Most people I know who have left their political party and registered as unaffiliated say they did so because they don’t particularly like the policies of either the Democratic or the Republican parties — that Democrats have moved too far to the left and Republicans have gone too far to the right, and that a majority of voters are more moderate. I agree that most people are somewhere in the middle.

For many years North Carolina voters were overwhelmingly registered as Democrats. The number of registered Republicans has been slowly increasing the past 40 years due in some part to a population increase as people moved to North Carolina for business or retirement. A study published by a UNC researcher shows that nearly half of North Carolina residents over the age of 18 are not native to our state. Over the past few years many native North Carolinians changed from Democrats to Republicans as evangelical Christianity became entwined with conservative politics.

The fastest growing segment of registered voters are those who choose to be unaffiliated. I think this is a good thing. If a voter does not feel a strong connection and support for the values and policies of either the Democratic, Republican, or Libertarian parties, then they should be independent from them.

Most unaffiliated voters do lean to the left or right, and tend to vote fairly consistently for candidates from one of the two main parties. The way America’s political system works places most of the power in the hands of Democrats and Republicans, or at least to those who claim membership in one party or the other.

Running for office as an unaffiliated candidate is far more difficult, as it takes petitions of registered voters to get on the ballot.

As the percentage of unaffiliated voters increases, the percentage of affiliated Democrats, Republicans, and others such as Libertarians will decrease, and political power will be concentrated in increasingly small groups of people. But the traditional parties will have to work harder to attract the support of the growing number of unaffiliated voters. That might serve to moderate both parties.

One commenter on The Robesonian website suggested that it would be better if all local elections were nonpartisan, proposing that voters would register with the party with which they are most aligned if they did not have limited access to voting for local candidates. It might also lead voters to make an effort to actually learn more about local candidates rather than relying solely on party affiliation.

I believe that most local officials are more loyal to their local area and the people they serve than a political party. As a citizen, I take my concerns to my representatives regardless of their party affiliation, and have never felt that it made a difference. I have never received special treatment from a local politician who was a fellow Democrat, nor have I ever been mistreated by a local Republican. I am often told that things are not that way in Robeson County though, and nearly 30 years of PSRC employment proved to me that politics are indeed different here.

According to figures from the N.C. State Board of Elections, on March 10 there were 74,740 registered voters in Robeson County — 48,586 registered Democrats, 9,927 Republicans, 198 Libertarians, and 16,029 unaffiliated.

On that date, 22,739 voters listed their race as white, 21,234 were listed as black, 26,748 were listed as American Indians, 1,286 were listed as Hispanic, and 4,019 as others. Males numbered 32,816 and females numbered 41,487.

At first glance, it makes no sense that North Carolina’s Republican lawmakers wanted to put heavily Democratic registered Robeson County into Congressional District 9 to give Republican Robert Pittenger an advantage. But those lawmakers had access to detailed voting records, showing that many Robeson County voters who are registered as Democrats are not really Democrats. Some of them have just never bothered to officially change their registration.

In my home county of Bladen, our voter registration numbers are vastly different from Robeson County’s. On March 10 Bladen County had 12,917 registered Democrats, 3,692 Republicans, 39 Libertarians, and 6,089 unaffiliated. Local political pundits know that most of those registered as unaffiliated are older people who consistently vote Republican, but most young people who register as unaffiliated vote Democratic.

There are nearly 600,000 more women than men registered in our state, and there are a historical number of female candidates running for election in North Carolina and across the United States. Female candidates and voters were the deciding factor in recent elections in Virginia, Alabama, and Pennsylvania. I hope the same thing happens in North Carolina in 2018 as women continue to increase their political influence and power.

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Patsy Sheppard, a St. Pauls resident, is a retired educator and active locally in the Democratic Party.

Patsy Sheppard, a St. Pauls resident, is a retired educator and active locally in the Democratic Party.