County has more unaffiliated voters: Party leaders provide their takes on changes

Published 5:32 pm Thursday, January 2, 2014

The number of registered unaffiliated voters in Beaufort County grew during a five-year period while the numbers of registered Democratic voters fell and the number of Republican voters increased, according to a Democracy North Carolina study.

From Nov. 4, 2008, to Nov. 5, 2013, the number of unaffiliated voters in Beaufort County increased from 5,588 to 6,927, a gain of 1,339 voters, according to the study released Monday. During the same period, the number of Democratic voters fell from 16,868 to 15,064, a drop of 1.804 voters. During that five-year period, the number of Republican voters increased from 9.672 to 10,088, a jump of 416 voters.

The study found that in every county except Hoke County, new voters are not registering as Democrats or Republicans. Statewide, unaffiliated voters are about 26 percent of all voters, up 8 percent from 1993. In 44 of the state’s 100 counties, unaffiliated voters outnumber either Democrats or Republicans. That’s not the case in Beaufort County.

During the five-year period, the number of registered voters in Beaufort County grew by 21 voters, going from 32,135 to 32,156, according to the study. During the five-year period, 36 counties saw their voter registration numbers fall, which means the number of new voter registrations did not offset the number of voters who died or moved to another county, state or nation.

During the five-year period, the number of black voters in Beaufort County declined from 8,548 to 8,442, a drop of 106 voters. In those same five years, the number of white voters also declined, from 23.030 to 22,866, a drop of 164 voters.

The number of registered Libertarian voters in Beaufort County increase from seven in November 2008 to 77 in November 2013.

Laurel Miller, chairwoman of the Beaufort County Democratic Party, says the changes in voter-registration numbers in the county provide her with food for thought.

“Well, I always like to start with the good news. And the good news is that, in Beaufort County, registered Democrats continue to outnumber register Republicans by a substantial margin,” Miller wrote in an email. “However, Beaufort County also appears to be experiencing what is part of a national trend as a large upswing of folks are registering unaffiliated. I understand that this trend is driven largely by voters who are tired of the politics of the far right and the far left. In response, our job is to make sure that new voters understand that Democrats here in Beaufort County are not about playing to the political extremes but rather are about getting folks back to work.”

Keith Kidwell, chairman of the Beaufort County Republican Party, also weighed in on the significance of the change in voter registration numbers.

“Clearly the Republican Party in Beaufort County is enjoying the increase which is about four percent in the last five years. But when compared to the unaffiliated and Libertarian growth it paints a picture of what we are not doing, and that is attracting the voters who are leaving the Democratic Party,” Kidwell wrote in an email. “I have noted many voters are Democrats because their parents and grandparents were Democrats. This proves the strong commitment to tradition in Eastern North Carolina. But due to the ‘progressiveness’ of the Hope and Change team, Democrats are breaking with that tradition. Locally Republicans for the most part are what Obama described as, ‘Clinging to our guns and religion,’ while that is attractive to many, voters tend to look more at national politics when choosing a party. When they look at the Republican Party in (Washington,) D.C., eating at the table of the Obama liberals it would be like swapping your six eggs for a half dozen. You get the same thing by a different name.”

Kidwell further expounded: “Local voters expect elected officials to stand firm on traditional American values, and when the major parties are not holding to the standards that are expected, it drives voters to unaffiliated or Libertarian. We must listen to what voters are saying and understand that they are no longer going to settle for politics as usual. People expect elected officials to say what they mean and stand by it, stop the lip service, stop raising taxes, stop ignoring the dire financial straits we are in nationwide and responsibly ‘protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.’ Until this happens the Republicans will not attract the voters that fall away from the Democratic Party.”

The Democrats’ Miller said the changes offer opportunities for the Democratic Party.

“The Beaufort County Democratic Party is working on this issue by continuing to define itself as the party of inclusion, not exclusion. We will continue to work as we have in the past that include reaching across party lines to resolve the problems facing eastern North Carolina,” she wrote.
Miller said the Democratic Party is doing something about the decline.
“One specific strategy that the Democratic Party is employing to combat the decline in registered Democrats is to educate all registered voters about the change in the voting laws,” she said.

To that end, the Beaufort County Democratic Party is hosting a presentation by Democracy North Carolina at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 16 at the Beaufort County Courthouse, according to Miller. The meeting, open to the public, will provide about how the new voter laws will affect voting in 2014.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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