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Today begins early voting in Charlotte’s upcoming primary election. On the ballot are Democratic and Republican party choices for mayor and Charlotte City Council.

(Click here for early-vote info and click here to check your voter registration. Click here for information on the LGBT Democrats of Mecklenburg County’s Early Vote Rally on Sept. 12.)

It’s an important election, more so than November’s general election. By and large, primary elections are what determine who will eventually be seated as mayor and as Council members in this largely Democratic city.

But primaries also have some of the lowest turnout, and run-offs, which we might see this go-round, have even lower voter participation. The last time Charlotte voted for mayor and Council, a mere 6.7 percent of more than half-a-million voters took to the polls. This ridiculously low voter participation is what makes the LGBT vote so extremely important — especially in an election year when so much is at stake for local LGBT residents.

Local, state and national LGBT groups have recognized the importance of this primary election, pouring resources and cash into their TurnOUT Charlotte! get-out-the-vote campaign.

If LGBT voters respond positively to efforts to get them to the polls, we’ll have a significant impact on who is elected. Here are the basic numbers:

  • Voter turnout (2013): 6.70%
  • Number of ballots cast (2013): 34,609
  • Registered Voters (2013): 516,797
  • Estimated LGBT metro population: 90,000
  • Estimated LGBT metro percentage: 3.8%

And let’s drill it down:

We don’t have an estimate of the exact percentage LGBT voters comprise among registered voters. It’s just data that doesn’t exist. Our current estimates for the local LGBT population come from Gallop and the Williams Institute, which conducted the single-largest national LGBT population study and released the results this year. Their research showed that Charlotte’s metro area had an LGBT population of 3.8 percent, or approximately 90,000 people.

It’s not entirely scientific, but, since we have nothing else to go on, we can take that percentage and apply it generally to registered voters (keeping in mind that LGBT voters, depending on who you ask, are either more likely to register to vote or less likely).

But if the number holds, we had 19,638 registered LGBT voters in Charlotte in 2013.

My guess is a greater percentage of the LGBT vote will turn out this year, given the efforts specifically targeting them. We could see LGBT voter participation as high as 30, 40 or 50 percent of our community. That means thousands of votes being directed toward candidates in close races, and it could mean a significant impact on who’s elected:

  • A few thousand votes could have swung the Democratic mayoral race in 2013, electing James “Smuggie” Mitchell over Patrick Cannon.
  • A few thousand — sometimes only a few hundred — votes can swing at-large City Council races.
  • The same goes for district races, where winners can be, and have been, chosen by carrying a mere 300 or 400 votes over their opponent.
  • In 2011, LGBT ally John Autry, who’s been endorsed by LGBT groups, won his primary by a mere 66 votes!

And none of this, by the way, counts our combined ally population. One local survey in 2011 found that nearly a third of local residents are either LGBT or have a family member or friend who is. That’s a lot of LGBT and potentially LGBT-friendly citizens, residents and voters.

Charlotte’s famously known as the Hornet’s Nest. Rile us up, we’ll come out in droves to find a solution. There’s no doubt local LGBT residents are riled over this year’s contentious non-discrimination vote and we all want a solution to continued inadequacies in local non-discrimination protections. What remains to be seen is just how many LGBT voters will take to the polls. If they respond positively to turn-out efforts, their votes will matter and could swing the election in ways the mainstream might not predict.

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