Raleigh, N.C. — The number of unaffiliated voters in North Carolina rivals the number of registered Republicans, but state rules make it difficult for any of those unaffiliateds to run for political office.
Of the 6.6 million registered voters statewide, almost 29 percent chose not to be affiliated with a political party. By comparison, Democrats account for about 40 percent of voter registrations, Republicans another 30 percent and Libertarians less than 1 percent.
"Most people that are registering as unaffiliated are doing it, I believe, because they're unhappy with the two political parties," said Rep. Ken Goodman, D-Richmond.
The rapid increase in unaffiliated registrations has prompted Goodman to push to make it easier for state and local candidates without a party label to get on the ballot.
Currently, someone not running as a Democrat or a Republican needs about 90,000 signatures to get on the statewide ballot or signatures totaling 4 percent of registered votes in a legislative district or county race.
"That bar is pretty high, and a lot of good talent may say, 'Well, that's just not worth the trouble.' So, we're leaving a lot of good people out of the process," Goodman said. "We have gerrymandered districts, we have super-majorities, we have high partisanship, and I just really think that, if you added unaffiliated candidates to the equation, some of that moderation that we've all been wanting would occur."
He said he is still working out details, but he plans to file legislation early next year to ease ballot access for unaffiliated candidates.
That could pose a political threat to established Democrats and Republicans.
"An unaffiliated candidate is a very tricky issue," North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes said. "If the parties define themselves through their platforms, then it makes it easier for potential voters to decide if this candidate reflects my view."
Democratic consultant Scott Falmlen said he respects access for serious unaffiliated candidates – with limits.
"(We don't want to be) creating a situation where any Tom, Dick or Harry with 1,000 or 2,000 signatures or whatever can get on the ballot," Falmlen said.
Goodman said he realizes his effort will be a political long-shot.
"People just do not abdicate power, so I'm sure it will be a tough sell," he said.