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Number of independent voters grows again

Political candidates seeking votes in Polk County may want to take note. The days of the Republican and Democratic parties dominating the countys voter registration rolls are gone.
Over the past decade, the number of Unaffiliated voters in Polk County rose significantly, drawing nearly even in recent years with Democrats and Republicans.
According to the figures released last week, Polk Countys registered voters consist of 5,331 Republicans, 4,915 Democrats and 4,420 Unaffiliated.
Unaffiliated voters now represent 30 percent of the countys voting population, up from 20 percent in 2000.
The rise in the number of Unaffiliated appears to have come largely at the expense of the Democratic party, although both major parties saw their reach shrink in the county over the past decade.
From 2000 to 2010, the share of Democrats fell from 40.4 percent to 33.5 percent, and Republicans fell from 39.2 percent to 36.3 percent.
With each election cycle more voters in Polk County have declined to affiliate with any party.Unaffiliated voters have increased in number and percentage with each election cycle.
The latest figures show they increased by only 12 since the 2008 presidential election, but Republicans are down 172 and Democrats are down 147 since then.
Over the past decade, the number of Unaffiliated voters in the county rose by 1,552, an increase of 54 percent. By comparison, Democrats fell by 807 (14 percent) and Republicans declined by 232 (4 percent).
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Commissioner switches
Polk County even had a sitting county commissioner switch to Unaffiliated last year. Commissioner Tommy Melton decided to switch from the Democratic party, saying he believes the county board could acehive more if it was comprised of non-partisan elected officials.
“My vision emphasizes a means by which officials can represent even more citizens in an effort to better serve a greater majority of voters,” said Melton at the time. “In other words I feel that local politics should be non-partisan, and I have decided to declare myself unaffiliated with any specific political party. I say this because I firmly believe that elected officials should represent people rather than parties.”
Melton is now up for reelection this year. Because of the change in his affiliation, he will have to get petitions signed in order to file as an Unaffiliated candidate. He likely will be the first incumbent county commissioner listed as an Unaffiliated candidate on the ballot.
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Even split
According to statewide voter registration figures compiled by Democracy North Carolina, Polk County is one of the more evenly split counties between Unaffiliated, Democrats and Republicans.
Polk County has the fifth highest percentage of Unaffiliated voters in the state, trailing only Currituck (34 percent), Henderson (32 percent), Watauga (32 percent) and Dare (31 percent).
Camden County saw the biggest percentage increase in Unaffiliated voters over the past decade, rising 178 percent, while Buncombe County was next at 104 percent.
The lowest percentage increase in Unaffiliated was in Avery County where they were up just 38 percent. But that increase still far outpaced Republicans and Democrats, who were down in the county by 12 and 9 percent, respectively.
Northhampton and Bertie counties have the highest percentage of registered Democrats at 80 percent. Mitchell is the most Republican county with 65 percent of voters, followed by Avery County at 63 percent.
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Statewide trend
Over the past decade, every county in the state saw an increase in the number and percentage of Unaffiliated voters, while Republicans and Democrats lost ground or increased only minimally in most counties.
Statewide, the number of Unaffiliated voters rose by 627,547 from 2000 to 2010, an increase of 83 percent. Over the same period, the number of Republicans was up 261,537 (16 percent) and the number of Democrats was up 272,148 (11 percent).
North Carolina now has 2.77 million registered Democrats, 1.93 million Republicans and 1.39 million Unaffiliated. Democrats represent 45 percent of the states registered voters, followed by Republicans at 32 percent and Unaffiliated at 23 percent.
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Non-white increase
Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina says the voter registration figures not only show a shift to more independent-minded voters, but more urban and non-white voters.
Voter registration rolls grew the most in urban counties of the state, and non-white voters increased by 57 percent over the previous decade. That compartes to an increase of 15 percent over the same period for white voters.
Hall contends the shift in voter registration “will likely influence campaign strategy for hot elections this year for Richard Burrs U.S. Senate seat and for control of the General Assembly.”
Candidate filing is under way for elections in North Carolina and will continue until noon on February. 26.

Registered voters in Polk County

Dem. Rep. Unaffiliated Lib. Total
2010 4,915 5,331 4,420 14 14,680
2008 5,062 5,503 4,408 5 14,978
2004 5,768 6,262 3,898 33 15,961
2000 5,722 5,563 2,868 9 14,163