With less than 100 days until election day, how is voter registration going in North Carolina?
Looking at the Civitas Institute’s Carolina Elections Vote Registration Changes page (using data from the NC State Board of Elections), we find a net gain of 193,921 voter registrations from December 28, 2019, to July 25, 2020. That is off the 2016 pace of a net gain of 202,949 registrations over a similar period in 2016.
Despite the drop, both major political parties have something positive to point out in this year’s numbers. Republicans can point out that they have out-registered Democrats by well over 20,000 registrations so far this year. On the other hand, Democrats can find solace that they gained more registrations in 2020 than in 2016 while the Republican increase in voter registrations is 4.1% smaller than it was in 2016. Unaffiliated voter registrations are 10.4% off the 2016 pace while Libertarian registrations have so far grown at about a four-times faster rate in 2020 than in 2016. See figure 1 for details.
A possible reason for the Republicans having a smaller advantage over Democrats in voter registration gains in 2020 compared to 2016 is that the Democrats had a competitive presidential primary to attract new voter registrations while the Republicans did not. If that is true, then we should see relatively stronger Democratic registration in the weeks before the March 3 primary.
As can be seen in figure 2, the Republicans began the year with a larger increase in net registrations and have been expanding on it throughout the year. However, voter registration during the early voting period of the March 3 primary did help Democrats close the gap.
A couple of other things jump out from figure 2. First, Democratic registrations actually declined in April in May while coronavirus fears slowed down voter registrations. Second, there was a large boost in Republican registrations in July. However, a part of that jump is due to a backlog of registrations in 17 counties in the 11th Congressional District. North Carolina election law does not allow new voter registrations during a 2nd primary, so no registrations were filed until after the second primary on June 23.
Bottom line: despite not having a competitive presidential primary, Republicans have increased their voter registrations more than Democrats have.