RALEIGH (WTVD) -- As politicians fight to win North Carolinians' votes, millions of votes remain unclaimed.
More than 2.6 million voting-aged North Carolina residents did not cast a ballot in 2016, based on an analysis by the ABC11 I-Team and ABC Owned Television Stations.
The data uncovered only 64% of residents 18 years old and older participated in the last presidential election.
Data from the 2018 midterm election revealed less than half of possible voters participated statewide.
"I would say it is a startling high number and I think most people don't recognize how high it is. A lot of people register and for whatever reason don't vote and we're constantly trying to nudge and urge people to take advantage," said Bob Phillips, the executive director of Common Cause North Carolina, a nonpartisan organization that works towards increasing opportunity and representation for residents.
Turnout rates by congressional district paint an even grimmer reality.
The I-Team found two out of every three potential voters sat out the 2018 election in the Third Congressional District along the coast. In 2016, the district also reported the lowest participation in the state at 57%.
The Eighth Congressional District also consistently ranking low in voter turnout.
The district encompasses many midland counties including parts of Cumberland County had 225,000 potential voters not cast a ballot four years ago.
"Districts that are more rural in nature and so there's going to be a district level in terms of economic engagement and all and how people are working and what people are doing for work. So if you are working in a space where you don't have the ability to take off for work... that's an issue. Information and disinformation is a huge issue in many of those areas," said Naomi Randolph, senior advisor for Action NC, a fellow nonprofit organization that works to empower low-income communities.
The Second and Fourth Congressional Districts in the Triangle ranked top in the state for both elections. Each district saw more than 70% of its potential voters cast a ballot in 2016.
"I do think where we are, the Capital, the news, the urbanization, even the education level, so many people in the Triangle counties are well informed, so many of it is being in the state capital and there is sometimes more interest driven by the education levels," Phillips explained.
The two districts also report the lowest poverty levels in the state.
"When you have to worry about a roof over your head and food on your table, worrying about who to vote for and when you are going to get to the polls or whatnot is much less a priority than when you have the time, the personal resources to pay attention to politics," explained Steven Greene, a political science professor at North Carolina State University.
Greene said education and age of a district play a big role in varying turnout rates within a state. Often turnout rates are higher among older and college-educated voters.
When comparing turnout between states, Greene said voting laws and accessibility to voting has an impact.
"How difficult it is to vote, whether you have early voting or mail-in voting and how difficult registration is and again, the easier those things are more people vote," Greene said.
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Nationwide, the ABC analysis uncovered poorer and more minority congressional districts saw a lower share of their voting-age residents turn out in 2018 and in 2016.
The analysis found in districts where poverty was above average 45% of eligible adults voted compared to 54% in districts with poverty below average.
Districts in Texas and New York reported some of the lowest levels of turnout in 2016 and 2018.
The nation averaged around 57% of eligible voters participating in the last presidential election.
"It's frustrating to hear turnout that low because voting is so important; but to me, it also speaks to the fact that we need to find ways to get more people involved in the electoral process in America, especially people who are in poverty and struggling and obviously feel left behind and no matter who they are or who they vote for it's not going to help them," Greene said.
Despite the lower turnout numbers from the past two elections, state organizers are hopeful for the 2020 election.
"Anecdotally people very often have spoken to us about having a distaste for the political environment right now so, therefore, they're opting out completely and we continue to make it clear the importance of opting-in to the conversation because they do have the ability to make change," Randolph explained.
Phillips said lack of information or misinformation is often the common reason people don't vote.
"It's people just not knowing all these different races that are on the ballot. It can be intimidating and if they aren't motivated enough at the top of the ticket, they're not going to show up and I think that's what happens this time," Phillips said.
Randolph also says in the future voting registration efforts can't just be focused in major cities.
"I think very often folks in those communities are discounted because they feel like people will focus on Charlotte or Raleigh or Durham because you can get out larger numbers but if you look at the counties in the districts you identified that there are many folks who would come out to vote if you look at the legacy of voting over years," she explained.
Friday is the last day North Carolina voters can register to vote.
Individuals can still register and vote in-person from Oct. 15 - Oct. 31.
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