New Bern, NC – Although the number of people who voted is on the rise; in regards to the percentage of turnout; the numbers went down. Executive Director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, Gary Bartlett says it has to do with increases in population and registered voters. Since 2008 the population has gone from nine point three million to nine point seven million people.
"In 2008 we had just under 6 million registered voters, and of course today we have almost 6.3 million registered voters and because of that increase is the reason why the percentage is down from 2008."
The increase of people who registered to vote between the 2008 primary and this one is more than the increase of people who decided to participate in this primary. But, we did see an increase in voter turnout this year from 2008 in the number of people who voted.
Bartlett lists some of the highest percentage of voters.
"Green had thirty eight point three eight percent, Beaufort thirty seven point zero six percent, Brunswick with thirty one percent, Craven and Pitt with about a little over twenty eight percent, and Onslow seemed to be on the lower end with 22 percent, so it looks like Greene County and Beaufort County were at the top in the east."
These reflect just some of Eastern North Carolina's higher rates. Even though these percentages don't mark any rises since 2008, the number of voters in every county grew. Among the counties that grew highest was Brunswick, with a rise of about nine thousand voters, and Pitt County, where twelve thousand more people voted. Greene and Beaufort County, among the highest in percentages, were lower in the increase of people voting, around one thousand more people voted.
Bartlett said a new law gives out of town and military overseas voters until Friday for their ballots to be received, and as of Wednesday the elections board had over 7000 more absentee ballots to count. Unlike many states, the absentee ballots in North Carolina are not restricted to out of town, military, or disabled persons, anybody can request one if done by the deadline.
An additional 6000 provisional ballots have yet to be counted because the board of elections needs to figure out if they are legitimate. Ballots can be deemed provisional if a voter's name does not appear on the electoral roll for that district, registration information is inaccurate, if the voter refuses to show id, or if a voter has already been recorded. Bartlett says regardless of the thirteen thousand uncounted ballots, they've set another record.
"we had over half a million people participate in absentee voting this year and that has been a record for us."
On May 8 at regional polling station at Grover C. Fields Middle School in New Bern, the parking lot was not full, but between five and six p.m. a consistent flow of New Bernians came to vote.
David Smith, a resident of New Bern says he always votes.
"It's a civic duty, you're supposed to."
Mary Barfield says participating in elections is a way to be counted.
"Cause I need to come out and vote, and voice my opinion."
"Need a change," said one man passing as he walked into the school to cast his vote. The remark recalls the abstract desires behind the Occupy movement that began on Wall Street last November, and Barack Obama's 2008 campaign slogan.
A majority at the polling site said they came to voice their opinion on Amendment 1, which passed and will state on Article 14 of the NC constitution that marriage is an institution between one man and one woman. Lucy Hayes says she voted for two very specific reasons.
"I needed to make sure that I got a chance to vote no on the constitutional amendment and for Mr. Obama."
A man who wanted to remain anonymous believes in the NC constitution as it stands.
"I was here mainly for the amendment to the constitution, I don't want it to go through, because the constitution has been here for three hundred years, why bother it."
Another couple who wanted to remain anonymous says Amendment 1 got them to the polls.
"coming out and making sure we voted for Amendment 1. I thinks it's very important we do that."
Amendment 1 has the potential to be rendered meaningless, as it might not change what was already in place as law in North Carolina. And because of the broad terms used in the article, such as "domestic legal union" and "does not prohibit a private party from entering into contract with another private party", the actual application of the article might not be known for some time.
Amendment 1 is based around the ideas of marriage as pronounced by the bible, and many churches spoke about the amendment, directly and indirectly. Bill Nealy, Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in New Bern, is against the marriage amendment
"I encourage the people in the congregation to be active citizens in the community I encourage them to be informed and educated on issues, and then to vote the way they believe that God is leading them to vote."
Nealy says the dioceses ultimately left the decision up to the individuals conscious.
Reverend and Doctor, Peter Stube at the Episcopal Christ Church in New Bern says they counseled their congregation to vote against the amendment, but also made it clear that one should vote according to one own beliefs. Reverend Scott Gleason at Tabernacle Baptist church says his church is for the Amendment. Gleason says Last Sunday the whole sermon was devoted to the definition of marriage as stated in the Bible.
"A feature of my sermon I will encourage people to vote as good citizens. Of course as a pastor I don't endorse any candidates at least not publicly or from the pulpit, if people want my opinion they can ask me privately if they care but I don't do that however when it comes to the marriage amendment as a church and pastor I can speak publicly about issues that are directly related to our values."
Some might question how the separation of church and state should be implemented, but as Reverend Gleason says, the principles dictated in the amendment supersede the laws governing church and state.
Lawyer and Mayor of New Bern, Lee Bettis, was against the passing of amendment one but is more concerned about the fact that it overshadowed issues in North Carolina that effect many more people.
"Both democrats and republicans are failing the citizens by engaging in this hurtful nonsense that doesn't move forward the agenda of becoming fiscally solvent, of teaching our kids, of creating jobs."
Because Amendment 1 became such a front runner problem in these past weeks some believe this was a ruse to get the republican vote out, and predict more of this type of unnecessary publicity as the General Elections approach, from both Republicans and Democrats. One of the bigger issues that have seemed to recede into the background are issues in the economy.
The economy has been falling steadily for some years, and North Carolina is almost at the top of the list with an unemployment rate of 9.7 recorded in March. The primary is a period in which the options are open for the public as to who they think is qualified to move into the general election period. Gary Bartlett at the State Board of elections says the North Carolina primaries are semi-open, which is good for voters that are unaffiliated.
"If you are registered with a party, libertarian, republican, or democrat, you must vote in that party, however if you are unaffiliated you do have a choice, you must state your choice when you present yourself in the polling place, and then they will give you the ballot that you desire."
Closed primaries only allow people that have chosen a party they affiliate themselves with. In open primaries all registered voters are able to choose a candidate in any party they'd like.
In a state that now has over nine million people and six million registered voters there are many opinions as to why more people aren't voting. Back in 2008, the state had a population of around nine million, in the primaries two million people voted for a presidential candidate, and in the general election double that. By the time of the general election there are typically only three candidates to choose from. Mayor Bettis thinks the problem of a lack of voters has to do with a loss of trust.
"We're in an economic recession, people want answers, they don't want arguing, and thats what they're getting, and no candidate is really standing out, out of all of them, theirs a lot of candidates out there, and nobody's coming out and saying this is what I'm going to do and this is how I'm going to do it."
Mayor of Jacksonville, Sammy Phillips, says the problem is matter of people not having time for, or not thinking about voting before the November General Elections.
"I think for the most part it's just people being caught up in their own day to day lives."
Even with a majority population that does not go to the polls, the numbers show improvements. With the tension of a struggling economy and the highly publicized marriage amendment, among other issues, more people were inclined to get in an early vote. The Occupy movement also warrants consideration with its passionate demands for change. In the past year the rise of two revolutions across the world, in Libya and Egypt, were able to enact a real change.
Next up for the political races are the secondary, or runoff primaries. These occur when the two top candidates both receive less than forty percent of the vote. The candidate on the lower end then chooses whether to move into the secondary primaries. Come October the General Elections will begin. One stop early voting for the general elections begins late October and the General Election is held November 6th.