By Davin Eldridge
Things are beginning to heat up again in American politics this summer, as Macon County is slowly beginning to see an uptick in voter registration. The numbers are in, and they’re painting a much different picture of Western North Carolina politics this year – one no longer of just blue and red, but of yellow, green and white, to name a few.
The new picture indicates a greater shift in dissatisfaction among voters at the local and state levels, and follows current trends at the national stage, revealing a pastiche of something more akin to the elections of present day Europe.
As of July 19, there was a total of 25,933 voters in Macon County – that’s 6,495 Democrats, 10,459 Republicans, 129 Libertarians, 8,814 Unaffiliated – with 13,800 females and 11,948 males.
It’s a small increase from last month. There were 25,845 total voters in the county on June 23–that’s 6,502 Democrats, 10,459 Republicans, 129 Libertarians, 8,753 Unaffiliated, and only two Green and Constitution Party voters registered. That’s an overall increase of .34 percent between June and July.
In the final months leading up to the 2016 Presidential election, Macon County saw a .76 percent increase–from 25,536 in the last week of October, to 25,732 in November.
While that increase was understandably much higher during a presidential election than this year’s midterm, the overall amount of registrations for this election season has already increased by 132.
But perhaps the more striking arithmetic isn’t the amount of overall registrations seen throughout Macon County, nor the typical uptick in partisan sign-ups, but rather, the sheer amount of electoral shifts happening beyond what’s long been considered normal political conventions.
In October of 2016, there were 8,321 independent voters. The following month, there were 8,392.
This year, there were 8,753 unaffiliated voters at the end of June. That figure has increased to 8,814–a .69 percent increase–as of the end of July. But despite there being more than 500 new unaffiliated voters in the county’s off-season election, the addition of two new parties onto the ballot help to further indicate dissatisfaction with the nation’s two major parties – Republicans and Democrats.
“This sort of uptick in voter registrations is normal this time of year,” said Gary Tallent, Deputy Director of the Macon County Board of Elections on Thursday. “But seeing these parties added is definitely something new.”
The new parties on the ballot are the Green Party and the Constitution Party. While both only have two registered voters so far throughout the county, they serve as a potential “spoiler” for the main parties. However, like 2016’s Libertarian Presidential candidate Gary Johnson said, third parties are “the first vote – the vote of the conscience.” By all accounts, it appears some voters seek to ease their consciences with a new kind of vote.
“We did just recently get on the ballot in March,” said WNC Green Party Chapter spokeswoman Camille McCarthy. “Many of our supporters are people who consider themselves as Greens, but don’t know yet that they can register and vote as Greens. Most are Democrats or independents or even some kinds of Libertarians.”
McCarthy said her party’s biggest challenge right now is getting the word out to more rural counties throughout the mountains that the Green Party has arrived.
“Our chapter is located in Asheville,” she said. “It’s difficult to get the word out to other counties. We try to put out press releases and make it to community events, but making it over one mountain is hard enough at the moment.”
The Greens are working with other movements of similar mindsets–such as the Poor People’s Campaign, NAACP and the movement against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
“We may be a small party but we have a good platform,” said McCarthy. “I think people are looking to third parties like ours because they’re sick and tired of the same old nonsense in Washington. People are waking up to the fact that the Democrats and Republicans are compromised and only serve the interests of the wealthy and corporate interests.”
On the other side of the fence, the newly formed Constitution Party seeks to strictly preserve the U.S. Constitution, while advocating for an even stricter adherence to it. While nearly diametrically opposed to the Greens in many philosophical ways, the Constitution Party readily agrees with it on one important theme.
“We believe the two major parties no longer serve the interests of ‘the People’,” said Albert Pisano, chairman of the North Carolina Constitution Party. “I think a lot of people are tired of just what is the duoploy political system. I think a lot of the people working in government today, in either party, are seeking to work for more power – to obtain it and to keep it. Political power.”
Pisano said the party’s motto is “principle over politics,” and has adopted seven primary “values” to further cement this creed. It believes in the sanctity of life, religious freedom, traditional family values, private property rights, the second amendment, anti-socialism and national sovereignty.
“We are growing, and we are everywhere,” said Pisano, who lives in Mecklenburg. “We’re finding more and more members in every town and county throughout the state – from doctors, lawyers, police and firemen, blue collar workers, you name it – we run the gamut and we’re here to stay.”
The party made it onto the ballot by petition, through a quiet campaign that Pisano said persisted throughout the winter and into the spring, which the GOP “never saw coming.” He said as a result, the Republican-led legislature passed the so-called “Sore Loser Act,” to stymie their efforts to be on the ballot this year in North Carolina. The law would basically disallow unaffiliated voters to write in Constitution Party candidates to certain races, spoiling the edge Republicans have been enjoying throughout the state since 2010.
“And that’s the kind of messing around that ‘the people’ are getting sick of,” said Pisano. “Mess around like that and you get hurt. So, we’re now taking them to court.”
According to Pisano, the Constitution Party is taking the GOP to court in not just one, but two landmark civil cases, as he says their opponents (and electoral pool) have sought to suppress the rights of voters, as well as the right to run.
Indeed, while both parties have only two registered voters listed in Macon County so far, and their numbers remain dwarfed by the “big two” everywhere else, both parties currently have members who are candidates in county commission races, or who hold office in local government. The Green Party currently has a member running for Congress in Eastern North Carolina.