Despite Election Fever, Some Voters Will Not Cast A Ballot

Oct 31, 2016

Millions of North Carolinians will cast ballots this election – and millions will not. With the cacophony of attack ads, character assaults and ambiguous policy positions at a fevered pitch, perhaps the most important political question these days – will you vote?

"Definitely. Our country needs all the help it can get. And I think every vote counts," said Diane Johnson.

"I will never, ever, not vote and I vote on the first day," said Geraldine Champion.

"I think it’s part of our responsibility as a U.S. citizen, so I vote every year," said David Mullis.

"No I’m not," said Brenda Branch, adding she doesn't cast a ballot because of religion. "I’m one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, so they don’t vote."

The four Henderson residents spoke about their plans to vote, or not, on a recent day.

Related: Unaffiliated Voters Foggy The NC Crystal Ball

Henderson is up Interstate 85, about 45 minutes from Durham. In 2012, more than 4.5 million people voted in North Carolina. Yet 2.1 million registered voters never chose candidates. Dennis Sanders was one of them.

"Well actually to be frank with you, this is going to be my first time voting in about 20 years," said Sanders, who was on his way to vote on this day. "To me, all politicians are... evil, but in this situation I will vote for the lesser of two evils, which is Hillary Clinton."

During more than an hour on Garnett Street in downtown Henderson, an unscientific survey provided only one person planning not to vote – Brenda Branch, the Jehovah’s Witness. But there are many others who will join her across the state this election cycle.

"They tend to be younger, they tend to be minorities, and they tend to be lower wage earners," said David McLennan, a political science professor at Meredith College.

McLennan said looking at those who don’t vote can provide a bit of a paradox.

"But they are what a lot of people refer to [as] disaffected by government and politics," he said. "They want more government programs, but don’t think the government is going to take care of them, so that’s the biggest challenge for candidates, how do you reach those non-voters and convert them into voters particularly if you’re a democratic candidate, because that would favor you. They’re very hard to reach, they’re very hard to motivate."

It’s unclear just how campaigns here might be trying to mobilize these non-voters. Three statewide campaigns – one Democratic and two Republican – declined to offer a comment for this story. Ford Porter, spokesperson for Roy Cooper's gubernatorial campaign, was asked how non-voters are specifically being targeted.

"I think there is a concerted effort to get a majority of voters on November 8th," Porter said. "We’ve been very fortunate with the Cooper campaign to have incredible support not only from donors and families, but volunteers."

Further down the ballot, candidates for council of state and General Assembly seats are generally most concerned with building name recognition and procuring time on the airwaves. For these candidates, worrying about non-voters is often not a priority.

Meanwhile, back at an early-voting location in Henderson, Geraldine Champion explained her limited patience for people with opinions, who don’t vote.

"I guess the only thing that I really want to add is – if you don’t vote, just shut-up," she said.

North Carolina’s record turnout came eight years ago, when nearly 70 percent of registered voters turned out. But even then, nearly a third still sat it out.  Those who do vote have a direct impact on helping candidates to victory, while non-voters also help to influence outcomes – even if that’s unintentional.