If sheer numbers mean anything, Democrats have a lot to look forward to in North Carolina this election. With another eight days before formal registration closes and another four weeks before the last opportunity to register and vote the same day, the state has a record number of voters on its rolls: 6,018,702.
Just for comparison, the state now has more voters than it had residents as recently as 1980, when there were 5.8 million residents. And voter registration has nearly doubled since elections director Gary Bartlett went to work for the elections board in 1993.
Since January, the state has signed up 603,000 new voters, nearly a third of them African American. Half were Democrats, a little less than a third unaffiliated and about one-fifth were Republicans. The state has also taken off its rolls about 200,000 voters who have died or moved elsewhere, Bartlett said Wednesday.
More than one-third of the new voters are in the urban counties of Wake, Durham, Guilford, Forsyth and Mecklenburg in the Piedmont. More than a third of new voters are young – age 18 to 24.
These new voters are one reason the experts say North Carolina may be on the verge of transformational political change. Polls show that Democratic candidates are leading in the presidential and U.S. Senate race, where Republicans normally do better than Democrats, while the Republican is leading in the race for governor, which typically favors a Democrat.
The intense interest in the election heralds a larger voter turnout, too. Early voting begins Oct. 16 and gives voters the chance to vote until Saturday, Nov. 1 at designated places. It also allows new voters to register in that same period, and total registration could increase many thousands more before election day. Of course, not all those registered vote in every election, but turnout could be extraordinarily high.
These newly registered voters are welcome in a democratic system that depends upon the active engagement of its citizens.
That puts a special responsibility upon state and local election officials to make sure every voter who wishes to cast a ballot can do so and that every ballot is properly counted. In a nation riven by partisanship and a state marked by closely fought election battles, disruptions in voting and botched ballot-counting would undermine public faith in our elections.
With 600,000 new voters and more signing up every day, though, it's clear that voter confidence is at a high level – and interest in this election is sky-high. In a troubled time, that's got to be a good sign.