Why your vote matters in municipal elections

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — According to data from the North Carolina State Board of Elections, 74-percent of eligible voters in New Hanover County cast their ballots in the 2020 presidential election but only 19-percent participated in the municipal elections the year before.

What is the reason for the ultra-low turnout for local elections?

“The off-year election doesn’t have that partisan driver of say a President of the United States, Governor of North Carolina, Senator,” Cape Fear Community College Instructor of Political Science Nelson Beaulieu said. “There’s no real left or right pull and I think for some people that makes it a little less interesting.”

Beaulieu explained that in the 1970s, the North Carolina General Assembly voted to hold the municipal elections on the off-years. Before then, there was no law governing elections for mayor and city council in the state’s municipalities.

After the change, voter turnout plummeted. There was less interest, less education on the candidates and their platforms, and some people even wondered if the municipal government even mattered. Well, it does.

“What’s the biggest issue in Wilmington right now? I think a lot of people will tell you it’s affordable housing and so our local leaders have got to figure out, well how can we deal with the affordable housing crisis? How can we make homes cheaper if everyone wants to be here?” Beaulieu said.

“Where are they going to create the next big development or what are they going to do with traffic? These sorts of things, these issues actually impact you,” UNCW Assistant Professor and Political Scientist Dr. Nadine Gibson said.

The same issues exist today. Dr. Gibson they could be addressed by making it easier for voters to educate themselves on candidates with more groups creating informational pamphlets like the League of Women Voters’ non-partisan online voting guide.

“More organizations creating voter guides and letting people know what the candidates are all about,” Gibson said. “That would at least lower the cost associated with gathering information.”

Not only do the issues hit closer to home, but Dr. Gibson also said your vote goes further in local elections.

“With low turnout elections and with close elections, that’s where you can maximize your political power as an individual,” Dr. Gibson said.

According to data from the NC State Board of Elections, only 9-percent of North Carolinians have participated in this year’s municipal elections. As of Friday, the participation in the Cape Fear Area is as follows.

  • Bladen County: 216 voters
  • Brunswick County: 1,040 voters
  • Columbus County: 86 voters
  • New Hanover County: 4,099
  • Pender County: 135

Early voting lasts until Friday, October 30 and Election Day is Tuesday, November 2. For information on where to cast your ballot, visit the NC State Board of Elections website.

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