BRUNSWICK COUNTY — It’s a municipal election year and, in Brunswick County, that means seats on the boards of 19 municipalities, two utility districts, and one hospital are up for grabs.
In 2017, voters elected 73 officials in Brunswick County. With the highest number of municipalities in the state, municipal election season in Brunswick County is sure to be crowded.
This can create challenges for new residents, which Brunswick County continues to welcome in droves. As the fastest-growing county in North Carolina, Brunswick County grew by 4.6% between 2017 and 2018, according to U.S. Census data. Over an eight-year period, from 2010-2018, the county added 25.9% to its population.
Over half the county’s population are non-natives — meaning people not born in North Carolina. A North Carolina at Chapel Hill Carolina Population Center study last year found that at 53% of the population, non-natives outnumber natives in Brunswick County — this percentage of non-native residents ranks 14th out of North Carolina’s 100 counties.
Odd-number election years can create confusion for new residents according to Brunswick County Board of Elections Director Sara Knotts. “Every year, we have people come in and discover they are not eligible to vote,” Knotts said.
For example, a Leland mailing address doesn’t necessarily make residents eligible to vote in Leland municipal elections, Knotts said.
(Find out whether you live inside any of Brunswick County’s 19 municipalities. Sample ballots will become available in the coming months, which will show voters who and what they can vote for. Until then, visit the State Board of Election’s voter lookup tool to determine eligible jurisdictions.)
So far, there are already 5,228 more registered voters compared to 2016, with the 2019 municipal election still over three months away.
Turnout last municipal cycle
Odd-number election years inevitably mean lower turnout compared to general election years.
Municipal elections turnout in 2017 was just 23.3% among eligible registered voters in Brunswick County. Out of 58,656 eligible municipal voters, 13,676 cast a ballot in the county in 2017, according to State Board of Elections data.
The Village at Bald Head Island had the highest turnout of all of the county’s municipalities, at 64%, with 159 voters casting ballots. The second-highest turnout last municipal cycle was in Southport, with 1,274 out of 3,185 voters participating.
Leland led the county with eligible registered voters, then at 14,960, bringing in 24% turnout. As a sanitary district, Brunswick Regional Water and Sewer H2GO led the county overall, with 17,175 registered voters and 21% turnout in 2017. The lowest turnout in the county was in Calabash at 5%; Carolina Shores at 6%; Shallotte at 7%.
For municipal elections, voter turnout analysis can be tricky, according to Knotts.
“A lot of times the turnout in a municipality depends upon how contested the races are,” she said. For example, turnout might be higher in a race in which six candidates are vying for one spot, as opposed to six candidates gunning for four spots. “They have to really work to get that seat,” she said.
Last municipal election cycle, Warren Knox was elected as a Town of Bolivia Alderman by 11 votes as a write-in candidate. This was the least amount of votes earned out of all 73 of the county’s elected official positions. Four spots were open in the race and just three candidates officially filed.
Frank Drury earned the second-least amount of votes in order to be elected in 2017, earning a spot on the Town of Calabash’s Board of Commissioners as a write-in candidate with 13 total votes. There were three seats open in the race, with just one candidate on the ballot.
The highest amount of municipal votes in Brunswick County in 2017 were earned by Brenda Bozeman, the Town of Leland’s mayor, with 2,584. Her challenger, Lee Kent, earned 29.2% of the total Leland vote.
Turnout last general election
Brunswick County has a higher-than-average senior population, with 31.5% of residents 65 or older, compared to 16.3% in North Carolina, according to 2018 U.S. Census estimates.
This population could reasonably be boosting the county’s voter turnout numbers in general election years. Older Americans generally vote in higher rates compared to younger voters, according to the U.S. Census. In 2016, voters 65 and older had the highest voter turnout compared to all other eligible age groups.
In the 2016 general election, at 71.9%, Brunswick County had the second-highest early voting turnout in the state behind Durham County. Compared to other counties in the state, Brunswick County had lower than average turnout on election day, and above-average total turnout. Out of 95,385 registered voters, 68,039 cast a ballot in 2016, at 71.3% turnout.
Voters may not notice it, but each of the county’s voting precincts is named. Knotts said the names are mostly for internal use, but they may appear on voter cards. There’s a “Mosquito” precinct one and two, a “Secession” one and two, and a “Frying Pan.”
“They just have always been and no one’s changed them,” Knotts said.
She said she believes the mosquito precincts were named after a mosquito swamp. As for “Secession,” she said the Brunswick County Board of Elections discussed the topic of updating names because a resident of the precinct reached out about it.
At the board’s August board meeting, Knotts said they’ll discuss the names again.
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