The Party Line
11:35 am
Thu October 17, 2013

GOP's Slide In Charlotte Elections Likely To Continue

J. Michael Bitzer

With Washington’s mess garnering the nation’s attention, many voters would like a chance to register their complaints against DC right now. And while they will have to wait until next spring’s primary elections and the general election a year from now, some voters will have their chance to express their votes in the coming weeks.

I say “some” voters because very few voters cast their ballots in odd-year elections, one of which is Charlotte. 

While most presidential election years see a turnout of 60 to 70% and mid-term elections see anywhere from the high 30s to low 40s in turnout, odd-year elections see the lowest voter turnout.  In Mecklenburg County in 2009 and 2011, the county-wide turnout was 21% and 16%, respectively. 

With barely two out of every 10 voters casting a ballot in off-year elections, the challenge for candidates in these low turnout and low information contests is to first get the lay of the potential electoral land. 

This year’s potential electorate for Charlotte comes from a pool of registered voters that is heavily Democratic: Registered Democrats are 49% of the city’s voters. Registered unaffiliated voters rank second (27%), while registered Republicans are barely a quarter of the pool.

Another factor in considering this year’s potential voter pool is the racial composition of Charlotte. While registered black voters are 22% of the state-wide voter pool, they are 37% of Charlotte registered voters, with white voters at 54%.

With this potential pool, then, we can look back at the 2009 and 2011 elections, where two major factors played out: Democratic dominance and a more racially diverse electorate.

In 2009, Charlotte saw its first open seat mayoral election in 14 years with the contest between Democrat Anthony Foxx and Republican John Lassiter. 

In that contest, a little over 100,000 Charlotteans cast a ballot, with registered Democrats making up nearly half of those ballots cast (49%); registered Republicans were a third of the electorate, with unaffiliated voters making up only 18%.

The influence of black voters was notable in 2009, with 40% of the ballots cast coming from African-American voters; white voters were 58% of the votes cast.

In 2011, with incumbent Anthony Foxx seeking a second term, the electorate continued to show a strong Democratic and black electorate, but saw a significant lower number of voters than in the 2009 contest.

Not quite 85,000 ballots were cast in the 2011; 54% of those ballots came from registered Democrats, with GOP voters making up only 28% and unaffiliated voters remaining at their 2009 level.

Ballots from black voters made up 42% of the vote, with white voters down to 55% of the ballots cast. 

And in both odd-year elections, women made up 57% of Charlotte’s electorate, much higher than their usual 52% in national elections.

With a city that is moving more like its national urban counterparts — more Democratic, more racially diverse, and with more women than men showing up vote — Charlotte’s upcoming election will likely confirm the trend it has been on, much to the GOP’s dismay.

But in this set of off-year elections, one aspect that may come out of the current DC mess is the increased anger against elected officials.  While many local officials don't have any claim to what’s been happening, voters may choose to enact vengence with their ballots this fall — if the voters realize that there are elections being held.