NC's Newest Voters Are Young And Likely Hispanic Or Asian

Feb 26, 2020

Raleigh high school senior Lizbeth Burgos De Pena said she was excited when her voter registration card came in the mail.
Credit Leoneda Inge / WUNC

More than 1 million North Carolina residents have registered, or re-registered, to vote since the 2016 election. A lot of the new voters are young - and are more than twice as likely to identify as Latinx or Asian than in previous elections.

Many of the new, young voters can be found on college campuses.

Brie Allen, a student at Meredith College in Raleigh, is a newly registered 18-year-old Libertarian.

“It just aligns more with my views and I don’t like the big-party systems," Allen said. "I don't like when we get involved in other country's affairs."

David McLennan was not surprised by Allen's comments. The professor of Political Science at Meredith College says he has seen a lot of change in this group of voters, who have come of age during a volatile time in American politics.

“It’s a very active group. They see themselves as change agents," said McLennan. "They go to marches, they participate in protests. They go online to boycott things. So, it’s a very interesting group.”

But will they vote?

“That’s the question. Because if we go back to 2016, we did not have a very strong turn out by young people. 2018 that was slightly improved," said McLennan.

Meredith College Prof. David McLennan has been studying and teaching NC politics for 25 years.
Credit Leoneda Inge / WUNC

What we do know is many of the new North Carolina registered voters fall into two main groups, according to Carolina Demography at the UNC-Chapel Hill Population Center. They are less likely to have been born in North Carolina than other registered voters or they were under the age of 18 during the last presidential election. 

On a Wednesday night in Raleigh last month, a few dozen young people came together for their regularly scheduled Pueblo Power Program. It was sponsored by the non-profit El Pueblo Incorporated, serving Wake County’s growing Latinx community.

One exercise involved passing a large, cloth red rose around the circle. Each person announced the good, “rosy” news in their life as a “petal,” and the not so good news as a “thorn.” Lizbeth Burgos De Pena said her thorn is stress, but she wouldn’t elaborate. But then, her eyes lit up.

“A petal would have to be I got into three universities!" said De Pena, as people in the circle smiled and started snapping their fingers.  "And that I got my voter card last week, so that’s cool. So I’ll get to vote this year!”

The 17-year-old Millbrook High School senior admits she didn’t always think voting was “cool.”

“But then my mom sat down with me and told me that many people, especially in our community, don’t get to vote," said De Pena.

Advocates have been working to increase the number of registered Latinx voters by targeting festivals, phone banking, direct mail and even knocking on doors.

“Not everyone is eligible to register to vote but everyone can be informed about the elections," said Angeline Echeverria, the executive director of El Pueblo. "Everyone can be informed about the process and encourage those who are eligible to register.”

In downtown Durham, Ricky Leung with North Carolina Asian Americans Together, is relaxing. He's having a cup of coffee after a long day of helping to register voters in the Asian community. Leung says he usually prepares himself for a hard sell.

“I prepare myself for a lot of people saying 'no'," said Leung. "And I am often pleasantly surprised by all of the 'yeses' that I get.”

Leung, who is of Chinese descent and naturalized as a U.S. citizen almost 20 years ago, says some immigrants have even grabbed his clipboard, anxious to fill out the form. 

“My passion isn’t just for voting rights but it’s also about empowerment of communities,” said Leung.

Numbers from Carolina Demography also show newly registered voters are less likely to be born in North Carolina, coming from California, Florida, New York, New Jersey and Texas. Even though the trend is to report fewer details, 43% of potential new voters marked “unaffiliated,” but most of them will likely swing Democrat or Republican.