Following the December 21st, 2015, candidate filing deadline, the lack of competition for state House and Senate seats was the subject of many headlines. In many districts, only a single candidate is running, effectively guaranteeing them re-election. In others, the only candidates that filed are from the same party; while voters may have a choice among candidates, the only choice will occur at the primary stage. By the November 2016 general election, the outcome will have already been decided.
North Carolina’s General Assembly is made up of 120 state house seats and 50 state senate seats. Only 62 of North Carolina’s 120 state house seats, or 52%, have at least one candidate from both major political parties registered for the 2016 election cycle. The share of senate seats with candidates from both major political parties is higher: 32 of the state’s 50 senate seats, or 64%, have at least one Republican and one Democrat registered for the 2016 election.
The lack of candidate options for state races is not new—nor is it limited to North Carolina. WRAL reporter Mark Binker notes that one reason for the lack of opposition “is that many state legislative district[s] skew heavily to favor either Democrats or Republicans, making challenges by the non-dominant party a quixotic affair.”
According to the North Carolina State Board of Election (SBE) voter registration data (12/19/2015 file), there are 6.4 million registered voters in North Carolina. Of these, 5.2 million or 81% are “Active,” meaning that they have confirmed their voting registration and/or participated in a recent federal general election. Of these, 41% are registered Democrats, 32% are registered Republicans, and 27% are unaffiliated. A very small number of North Carolina voters (less than 0.5%) are registered Libertarian.
How does the partisan composition of voters vary by district competitiveness and candidate affiliation? How many voters do not have the option to elect a candidate from the party with which they are affiliated? These are the questions we’ll be examining this week and next.