I had to smile at Trevor Fuller’s assessment of his third-place finish in the five-person at-large Mecklenburg County commissioners’ race. Voters chose three in the Democratic primary to face two Republicans in November for the three at-large seats.
Fuller, chairman of the county commissioners, was the only man in the field, and he took note of it Tuesday. He said the outcome showed that the Democratic Party has “a high percentage of female voters and most of those voters tend to vote for other women.”
Some might say that if that were totally true, Fuller would have come in even lower on the vote totem pole. There were two other women in the race who grabbed a lot fewer votes than Fuller. So sisterhood in voting seems to go only so far.
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I like to think that women, like men (and like other groups), vote their interests. If a candidate can speak effectively about addressing women’s interests and concerns, be that a male or female politician, that candidate has a better chance of capturing the female vote.
But it is true that in terms of numbers, women have the clear voting edge in North Carolina. If women wanted to coalesce into a voting bloc, they could wield great power. They could put a female into all the highest elected positions in state government – and in local governments in cities and counties like Charlotte and Mecklenburg as well.
According to the N.C. Board of Elections, in statistics updated this week, female registered voters outnumber male registered voters in the state by more than 500,000. Males number 2,939,038; females number 3,498,467. In Mecklenburg County, the break down is 357,548 female registered voters to 293,787 male voters.
That kind of lopsided male/female voter registration plays out in every N.C. county. The N.C. counties coming close to gender parity in voter registrations are Tyrrell and Hyde counties, both in the east near the Virginia line. Female registered voters in Tyrrell number 1,331; males 1,135. That’s a 196 vote difference. Nearby Hyde County has 1,837 female registered voters versus 1,605 male registered voters. That’s a 232 vote difference.
But here’s the rub: Women aren’t monolithic. They’re not all Democrats. The state has more than 2.7 million registered Democrats, 1.9 million registered Republicans, more than 1.7 million registered unaffiliated voters and 23,541 registered Libertarians. Women are in all those groups.
Yet among Democrats, women do lead the pack; they are more than 1.5 million of the 2.7 million registered Democrats.
Democracy North Carolina Executive Director Bob Hall noted last year: “If women consolidated around a message or messenger, they’d dominate state politics.”
Some female voters will give the edge to qualified female candidates over equally qualified males. Fuller said Tuesday he has “work to do.”
But his third-place finish might have had more to do with name recognition. Both first-place finisher Ella Scarborough and runner-up Pat Cotham have long histories of high visibility and involvement in the Mecklenburg County Democratic Party. In primaries in non-presidential years, voter turnout is low – only 9.6 percent on Tuesday here in Mecklenburg. That’s an advantage to those with high name recognition.
Though Fuller is the commissioners’ current chair, his is hardly a household name. He was first elected in 2012 after having held no other elective office. He took over as chair after a year of tumult when Cotham was chair and she lost support of some of the Democrats on the board who felt she cozied up to Republicans. Fuller’s been chair since December, and he’s been a steadying influence, but he’s been low key.
Scarborough hasn’t held public office for more than a decade but she has stayed active in this community and in Democratic circles.
Yet messaging – plus the support and deep pockets of female advocacy groups like Lillian’s List – also accounts for the success of some female winners on Tuesday. Greensboro’s Alma Adams is a good example.
She faced six male opponents for the 12th District congressional seat held by Charlotte’s Mel Watt for 21 years. But to the surprise of many, she avoided a runoff where she would have been at a disadvantage. The majority of the district’s voters are in Charlotte. She won the primary outright with a message with broad appeal to female voters: support for affordable health care, protecting the right to choose, pushing for pay equity for women. In fact, her campaign stated bluntly that she’ll “stand up for women.”
Fellas, numbers do matter. But a message that resonates with women might be the winning formula to get their vote.