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Saturday April 1st

Something old, something blue: Orange County voter turnout

Emilie de Luca works the check-in table at the UNC System Office, the polling place for Greenwood precinct on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019.
Buy Photos Emilie de Luca works the check-in table at the UNC System Office, the polling place for Greenwood precinct on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019.

Voters across Orange County came out on Tuesday to choose their representatives for local governments — but the electorate did not exactly mirror the population.

While candidates from all five elections on the ballot — Chapel Hill Town Council and mayor, Carrboro Board of Aldermen and mayor, and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board — run as unaffiliated, most candidates have to cater to a largely Democratic-leaning base.

Early voter turnout in Orange County was over 66 percent registered Democratic and just under four percent registered Republican, continuing a blue trend in Orange County politics. 

Deanna Williams, 25, voted at the Carrboro Town Hall on Election Day.

“It was definitely an overwhelming Democratic base, but I think that’s representative of those who live here,” she said.

In addition to voicing concerns about policy issues, some voters said they want their local government to reflect the local community.

For instance, over 57 percent of voters identified as female, while only 52 percent of Orange County residents identify as female. And while around 12 percent of Orange County residents self-identified as Black, only six percent of voters identified as Black. 

Carrboro resident Gloria Cardona, 70, voted at the Carrboro Town Hall on Election Day. 

“Affordable housing and transportation are important," she said. "Also, electing candidates that have diversity. It’s important to have elected officials that are diverse and reflect the community.”

Gerry Cohen, former Chapel Hill Town Council member, said younger voters typically have the lowest turnout out of any age group.

Cohen ran for Town Council as a student in 1973. Forty-six years later, Tai Huynh, a UNC senior, ran for Town Council in this year’s election. But Cohen said this appears to have had little effect on student turnout.   

“Looking at early voting, looking at both dormitory address and voters age 18 to 25, it appears about the same as two years ago," he said. "Would it have been less if the student hadn’t run? There’s no way to know that.”

The early vote was greatly dominated by older voters. While only 14 percent of Orange County residents are 65 years of age or older, that age group made up nearly 35 percent of the early vote. Three people shared the title of oldest voter in Orange County this year at 99 years old.

Rachel Raper, director of the Orange County Board of Elections, said the board is not explicitly required to encourage turnout among under-represented groups. 

“Other than publicizing elections and making sure that polling places are accessible, the Board of Elections doesn’t have a direct responsibility to increase turnout,” she said.

UNC residence halls are divided between five different precincts. But Raper said efforts to consolidate campus precincts to one polling station may streamline voting procedures.

“The consolidation would have one polling place that serves the UNC campus community so that there would be less confusion on Election Day,” she said. “So we felt like it would help with the efficiency of the process and also free up money to be used on the early voting process, because that’s how Orange County voters tend to vote.”  

Cohen said he thinks this would serve to increase student turnout in the future.

“Most students vote using early voting. Typically, about 75 percent of students vote early," he said. "So the first issue would be convenience of an early voting site, but second for Election Day, it will be much simpler if you’re voting in one polling place.”

Despite Chapel Hill being known as a college town, Cohen said it’s nearly impossible to win an election based solely on support from students. 

“You can’t win a local election in Chapel Hill as a student without support from the community. There aren’t enough student voters to win with just that,” he said.

The Orange County Board of Elections will meet to certify all results on the morning of Nov. 15. All results are unofficial until they have been certified.

Guillermo Molero and Suzannah Claire Perry contributed reporting. 


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