Editorials

Young adults don’t vote here

The Observer editorial board

There’s often no wait to vote in Charlotte – especially in off-year primaries.
There’s often no wait to vote in Charlotte – especially in off-year primaries. 2014 OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

What percentage of residents aged 18-34 would you guess voted in the Charlotte mayoral primary in 2013?

30? 20? 10? 5?

Try less than 1 percent. 0.9 to be exact.

It’s not news that younger people vote at lower rates than older people. But a new study from Portland State University and the Knight Foundation sheds light on how huge that gap is, especially in local elections – and how Charlotte’s young people are even more apathetic about voting than those in other cities.

Researchers examined 730,000 voter records from mayoral races in 2012-13 in Charlotte, Detroit, St. Paul, Minn., and Portland, Ore.

The findings were generally abysmal, but Charlotte (where Patrick Cannon defeated James “Smuggie” Mitchell and then Edwin Peacock) was even worse than the other cities on almost every measure. Among the startling findings:

▪ Charlotte’s turnout was the lowest of the cities studied: Just 7 percent of registered voters came out for the primary and just 19 percent for the general.

▪ In contrast to the young people’s 0.9 percent turnout, 19 percent of all residents 65 and older voted in the primary. In the general election, the gap was 3.7 percent to 43.5 percent.

▪ People 18-34 make up 36 percent of the voting-age population but only 5 percent of the votes cast in the primary. Senior citizens make up 12 percent of the population but were 38 percent of the votes cast.

▪ The odds of someone 65 and over voting, compared with an 18-34 year old, were 19:1 in the primary and almost 14:1 in the general.

▪ There are more than a dozen “voting deserts” – census tracts where turnout was less than half the already-low figure in the rest of the city. Turnout in the highest tract was 35 times what it was in the lowest.

▪ The median age of primary voters was 59, almost a generation older than the median age of the voting-age population.

Detroit and St. Paul each have a strong-mayor form of government, so perhaps their voters are more motivated than in Charlotte, where mayor is largely a ceremonial role. And Portland held its mayoral election in 2012, a presidential year, which makes its turnout numbers not comparable.

Even so, the results show that young people in Charlotte are giving up their say in local government to their parents’ and grandparents’ generations.

Donald Trump has everyone’s focus on the 2016 presidential race already. But first there’s a wide-open mayoral race and City Council races – with a primary just weeks away. Young people, and all residents, should do themselves a favor: Clue in, get informed, cast a vote and have your say.

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