North Carolina is rapidly becoming a state dominated by unaffiliated voters — and some counties are already there.

Seven counties already have more unaffiliated voters than either Democrats or Republicans, according to statistics from the State Board of Elections.

  • Dare
  • Henderson
  • New Hanover
  • Onslow
  • Polk
  • Transylvania
  • Watauga

These counties are relatively small. But Wake County, the state’s second-largest, is about to join this group.

Wake currently has 262,086 registered Democrats, and 261,304 voters registered unaffiliated. Based on current trends, the two should flip-flop sometime this year. Republicans number 180,565 in Wake County.

Unaffiliated voters have already surpassed the statewide registered Republican population. GOP campaign strategist Paul Shumaker expects unaffiliated to exceed Democrats by 2022 or 2024.

What does this mean?

It can be tempting to use this as evidence that North Carolina voters are moderate, centrist independents. However, most unaffiliated voters vote with one party just as often as actual registered members of that party.

[7 types of unaffiliated voters in North Carolina]

These numbers do suggest, though, that the party structure in North Carolina is losing its influence. The country’s two major parties have dominated politics for more than a century, but voters increasingly seem to be rejecting them as institutions — just like the Rotary Club.

Party leaders would be wise to try to find out why, and whether they can or should try to reverse the trend.


  1. The 100 county boards of election in North Carolina make important decisions about the location of each precinct’s voting site, the number and locations of early voting sites, voter and candidate eligibility issues, any Election Day issues, and handle the vote counting.

    The latest refarkling of the Boards of Election legislation—passed late in 2018—banned the Libertarian Party of North Carolina from nominating folks to serve on the 100 county boards of election, as they previously were able to do. Only the Democratic Party and Republican Party are now allowed to submit nominations.
    Not only that, but it is illegal for anyone who actually is nominated to actually be appointed unless s/he is a registered Democrat or Republican. Independents now account for one-third of all registered voters in NC…but thanks to this new law, no independent voter will ever be nominated by the Ds or Rs to help make these important decisions thanks to this new law.

    (Not that the Democrats or Republicans ever nominated independent voters back when they still could: the LPNC is the only political party in North Carolina ever to nominate independents for county boards of election.)
    Each county board of elections has five members and four of them are appointed by the State Board of Elections from slates of nominees submitted by the Democratic and Republican parties. The fifth member of each county board is selected by the governor…and he does have the latitude to appoint independent voters (or Libertarians, Greens, Consitutionists, Republicans, or Democrats).

    However, the smart money is on Governor Roy Cooper choosing 100 more registered Democrats to fill those slots. Once that process is complete, of the 507 North Carolinians appointed to make these important election decisions—five in each of the 100 counties plus seven on the State Board of Elections—60% will be Democrats (who make up 37% of all registered voters) and 40% will be Republicans (who make up 30% of the electorate).

    Independent voters, who comprise 32% of the electorate, will have 0% representation.


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