Voter Turnout Down In Two Florence Disaster Counties

Feb 4, 2019

Hurricane Florence contributed to a drop in voter turnout in two federally-designated disaster counties, according to a recent analysis of the midterm elections’ turnout.

A State Board of Elections' billboard, reminding voters to cast their ballots after Florence, remains up along Highway 70 in Havelock on Feb. 2, 2019.
Credit Valerie Crowder

Despite a statewide increase in voter turnout from 2014, turnout Pamlico and Jones Counties fell slightly in last year’s midterm elections cycle. Four out of the five counties with the lowest turnout rate were federally-declared disaster counties, reveals a report from Democracy NC, a nonpartisan advocacy group that works to increase voter access to the polls.

"It does suggest election officials must adapt their outreach and education strategies in areas that are vulnerable to hurricanes," said Sunny Frothingham, Democracy NC's senior researcher and the report's author. "This isn’t the first time these same counties in Eastern North Carolina have been hit." 

After Florence hit, the state Board of Elections office extended the deadline for local elections boards to receive absentee ballots from voters in disaster counties. It also put up billboard signs reminding people to vote in the affected counties and sent voter registration forms to shelters.

“Some county boards of elections helped voters fill out absentee ballot requests at shelters,” Frothingham said. “At the state level, there’s an opportunity to provide more funding, and ensuring that counties have really comprehensive plans.”

More than half of the state's registered voters -- 53 percent -- cast a ballot in the 2018 midterm elections, driving up turnout by almost 10 percentage points from 2014.  Jones, Pamlico and Halifax Counties were the only three counties in the state that saw a decline in voter turnout. 

Onslow County, which has a high active duty military population, had the lowest voter turnout in the state.  Cumberland, Hoke and Robeson Counties – all affected by Florence – were also among the five counties with the lowest turnout rate in the state.