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Report: N.C. Lags Behind in Civic Health

The Voter Update

November 19, 2010
By Bryan Warner
Published: Nov. 19, 2010

RALEIGH - North Carolina performs below the national average when it comes to several areas of civic engagement, with the lone exception of voter turnout, according to a report released last month.

Published by the National Conference on Citizenship, the “North Carolina Civic Health Index” compares North Carolina to national trends in such areas as volunteering, membership in community organizations and political participation.

Buoyed by the state’s record-high 70 percent turnout in 2008, voter participation is the only area in which North Carolina surpasses the national average, with the state ranking 15th in the nation for turnout and 12th in voter registration. In 2004, North Carolina ranked in the top 40 for the same categories.

However, this year’s report ranks North Carolina 44th in the nation when it comes to non-electoral political participation, such as taking part in a political march or contributing $25 or more to a party or candidate. The state ranks 42nd in volunteering.

So-called “Millennials” -- the generation born after 1981 -- are the least civically involved group in the state, the study finds. The low level of engagement among young citizens is cause for concern, according to Kelley O’Brien, director of the N.C. Civic Education Consortium.

“These Millennials are the future leaders of our state, and we are looking at large-scale retirements in the areas of public service,” O’Brien said. “We need to think about how we are going to reach this generation of North Carolinians as we think about the future leadership of our state.”

With North Carolina facing a projected $3.5 billion budget shortfall, O’Brien said the General Assembly should avoid cuts to the state’s civic education curriculum.

“Unfortunately what we are seeing across the nation is that civic education and social studies are pushed down to the bottom as we focus on science and math,” O’Brien said. “Of course those are very important subjects, but we could have a generation of very knowledgeable scientists and mathematicians who are ready to compete on the global marketplace, but if they are not contributing to their communities and not making their communities work, then we have done our young people a huge disservice.”

One step state lawmakers have taken to engage young citizens in the democratic process is allowing teens to “pre-register” to vote. Passed during the 2009 legislative session and implemented in January of this year, the law allows 16- and 17-year-olds to complete registration forms used to automatically add their names to the list of active voters when they turn 18.

About 35,000 16- and 17-year-olds have pre-registered to vote since the option went into effect at the start of 2010, with roughly 10,400 registering as Democratic, 10,500 as Republican, 300 as Libertarian and 13,800 as unaffiliated voters, according to data from the State Board of Elections.
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