With state primary elections coming up on May 17, more people have registered to vote in Orange County compared to the rest of North Carolina.
According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau and Orange County Board of Elections, about 89 percent of Orange County’s eligible residents are registered to vote. This is almost 9 percent higher than the state average of 80.8 percent.
In addition, data suggests that registration is racially proportionate to the population.
Those describing themselves as white constitute about 70 percent of Orange County’s registered voters, which is less than one percent greater than the percentage of non-Hispanic white residents in the county.
Meanwhile, Orange County’s Black community, which comprises 11.8 percent of the county’s total population, makes up 10.8 percent of its registered voters.
“Orange County is a very engaged community,” Orange County Board of Elections Chair Jamie Cox said. “We have a lot of folks who are very involved.”
However, some individuals are still facing challenges with the registration process.
Registration challenges and solutions
Cox said registration is set by statute in North Carolina, which means every county in North Carolina follows the same registration procedures. New policies are implemented in a top-down fashion by the N.C. State Board of Elections and General Assembly, he said.
However, Renee Price, chairperson of the Orange County Board of County Commissioners, said the current registration process has several problems which can be exacerbated by local actors.
She said although there are only three basic requirements to vote — address verification, American citizenship and being at least 18 years old — potential voters can be exposed to false information about the process.
“Sometimes people have been intimidated, especially in the past, and sometimes people try to spread misinformation,” Price said.
This misinformation, she noted, can discourage people from registering and voting, which in turn weakens their voice and perpetuates inequalities.
However, Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said efforts have been taken by both local officials and organizations to register and support new voters.
Some of these initiatives include providing registration sites, offering more reliable information and reaching out directly to those in the community with unique struggles, she said.
“We really push voter registration here in our community,” Hemminger said. “It's available just about everywhere — the library, the post offices, the Orange County Board of Elections."
In addition, she said there are efforts to help explain registration and voter forms at Chapel Hill’s community and senior centers.
Hemminger said volunteers have assisted many different people, including refugees from Syria, in understanding the registration process.
For example, these volunteers help explain the voting form to Chinese and Korean Americans whose first language is not English, she said.
"We have a lot of residents here who are citizens who are eligible to vote, but the language barrier sometimes is a difficult one,” Hemminger said.
Krishna Mondal, president of the Orange, Durham and Chatham counties' League of Women Voters, said the goal of these efforts has been to overcome challenges such as language and technology barriers.
“We need to go to places where people are marginalized, where people don't have quick access or they just need a little bit of extra time,” she said.
How to register
Despite these challenges, Price said registering people to vote is an incredibly important effort. Decisions made by voters, such as electing a new district attorney or guiding budgets for the school system, she said, play an important role in the daily lives of Orange County’s residents.
And there are several ways to register to vote in Orange County. Options include filling out a North Carolina Voter Registration Application, which must be sent back to the county 25 days prior to the closest election, or attending one of the county’s voter registration drives. For the May 17 primary election, the voter registration deadline is April 22.
Another option is participating in one-stop early voting, which allows for residents to both register and vote during the early voting period. By bringing a valid form of ID, citizens in Orange County can get registered even after the window typically ends.
Early voting in North Carolina spans over a two-week period from April 28 to 3 p.m. on May 14.
Residents with a North Carolina driver's license, meanwhile, can register to vote or update their voter information online with the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles for free.
“This just happened in 2020, and we were so happy because, you know, in 2020 everything sort of exploded in our faces,” Mondal said. “It is a very helpful, very pro-voter service.”
To help address local issues, Mondal said it is crucial that residents have the opportunity to make their voices heard in the upcoming primary election.
“It's a little bit more than your civic responsibility," she said. "It is your choice. It is your voice. This is the time for you to choose for something or against something. That is what voting is about.”
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