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OPINION: Mecklenburg’s Bad Voter Turnout Was No Surprise

Volunteers count ballots that are spread across the table. Mecklenburg County’s voter turnout rate had been below the statewide average for the past four cycles.
Mecklenburg County’s voter turnout rate had been below the statewide average for the past four cycles. (AdobeStock)

The low Democratic voter turnout in Mecklenburg County in 2022 has been the subject of recent headlines, but it was not a surprise to many Democrats in the county.

In fact, the turnout rate was consistent with a pattern that set off alarm bells two years ago for several members of the Mecklenburg County Democratic Party’s (MCDP) County Executive Committee (CEC), which is made up of almost 400 party members including precinct leaders, auxiliary presidents and elected officials. 

After the 2020 election, several CEC members became concerned when they learned Mecklenburg County’s voter turnout rate had been below the statewide average for the past four cycles.

A graph shows troubling trends for the Mecklenburg County Democratic Party

This set off an effort by a small group of CEC members to try to work collaboratively with MCDP leadership to create a more robust and efficient organization with the goal of increasing voter turnout. The idea was to start with a strategic planning process in early 2020 that would involve Democrats geographically across the county, intentionally including a diversity of members racially and ethnically as well as young voters and members of the LBGTQ+ community. 

The group proposed that MCDP pay a strategic planning professional to facilitate this process to ensure a high-quality plan was created with a goal of improving Mecklenburg County’s voter turnout rate to meet or exceed the statewide average. The plan would be rapidly implemented ahead of the 2022 election cycle. This effort was met with barriers from MCDP leadership.

During this time, the African American Caucus of the MCDP (AAC-MCDP) began efforts to be more actively engaged in organizing precincts in predominantly Black communities. Rather than welcoming and encouraging these efforts, Mecklenburg County Democratic Party leadership put up procedural roadblocks. 

The matter was escalated all the way up to the state level in an effort to amend the party’s Plan of Organization so that ethnic minorities could have more oversight in organizing precincts in their communities. This year-long, often bitter process stalled the work that was vital to getting these precincts organized and their leaders trained in time for the 2022 cycle.  

Efforts were made to innovate internal processes such as creating a more modern, high-functioning website, setting up committees and recruiting volunteers with professional skills to serve on these committees, and improving fundraising to support candidates and promotional efforts. Dozens of experienced Democratic volunteers who were ready to dive in to help the party succeed found themselves ignored or outright rejected by leadership and their efforts blocked or stalled in needless bureaucratic foot dragging.

Efforts to expand the leadership structure by bringing leaders of the party auxiliaries back to the officers’ meetings was also met with surprising resistance. These auxiliaries represent ethnic and affinity groups such as African Americans, members of the LBGTQ+ community, the Hispanic community, Asian Pacific Islanders, young Democrats, and progressives. 

A Black woman with short-cropped hair wears black-and-white glasses, a pearl necklace and a black-and-white flower shirt.
Janice Robinson

Having these voices at the table during monthly leadership meetings not only helps these groups understand the urgency of turning out voters in their communities but also gives them input in the planning process. 

Whereas more may possibly have been done by state and national leaders and by the Beasley campaign that might have resulted in a larger voter turnout in Mecklenburg County, it should go without saying that having a local county organization that welcomes and incorporates the talents and resources of all its members is the starting point. 

There are Democrats in this county that are ready and willing to use their talents and resources to get their base to the polls. The question is are those leading the organization also ready and willing vs. doing the same thing year after year.

Janice Robinson is the Mecklenburg County Democratic Party Precinct 148 chair. 

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