During record early voting, some 'just want to get it over with'

Posted November 6, 2016

— Carolina Batista knows what it is to stand in a five-hour line on Election Day, so the 45-minute line at Lake Lynn Park in Friday morning's cool sunshine didn't seem like too much of a bother.

"I didn't want to go through that again," said Batista, 35, a transplant from New York, where there is no in-person early voting and frequently long lines on Election Day.

The Wake Technical Community College radiology student said she backs Democrat Hillary Clinton over Republican Donald Trump in the presidential election because Clinton's policies are important to Hispanic voters.

"She's not like Trump. Trump wants to kick us out," Batista said.

Batista was one of roughly 3.1 million voters who set a record during North Carolina's 17-day early voting period, which ended on Saturday.

Clinton supporters like Batista and Trump backers like Jim Kendrick, a retiree who used to work for auto parts maker Carquest, were among those who found themselves in line during the final days of early voting, hoping to escape bigger delays on Election Day, which is Tuesday.

"I wanted to beat the crowd," Kendrick said, looking around the line meandering down the sidewalk. "I didn't do a very good job of that."

Kendrick said he backs Trump because Clinton "can't tell the truth under any circumstances."

In 2012, 2.7 million voters cast early ballots. That was about 42 percent of registered voters at the time.

This year, 44 percent of registered voters have already cast ballots. The vast majority – 2.9 million – voted during the 17-day "one-stop" period during which voters could register to vote and cast early ballots in person.

The remainder voted by mail, and local boards of elections will continue to accept mail-in ballots through Election Day. Early voting figures will also shift as local boards complete administrative work and process provisional ballots, which are cast by voters who encounter administrative problems.

There are more registered Democrats in the state than registered Republicans, and more Democrats have voted thus far. But looking at the percentage turnout among both parties, the rate of early voting is about equivalent. About 47.5 percent of both registered Republicans and registered Democrats have voted thus far. While more than 807,800 unaffiliated voters have cast ballots either by mail or in person, that represents 39 percent turnout thus far among the state's unaffiliated voters.

Despite having that data, it would be a dangerous assumption to translate Republican and Democratic turnout numbers into votes for any one race. North Carolina has a history of splitting its votes, particularly for president and statewide races, and political polling in the last two weeks has yielded remarkably inconsistent results.

Voters have individual motivations for voting, from races low on the ballot to the presidential campaign to a desire to be able to tune out the din of the campaigns for a few days.

"I just want to get it over with," said Kesha Turner, who was whiling away time in the early voting line Friday morning by answering email on her phone. Her's was not an uncommon sentiment.

2016 In-Person Early Voting by Day

This is a count of early in-person voters by day.

Source: N.C. Board of Elections

Both presidential campaigns have focused on the state, repeatedly sending their candidates and surrogates to rallies and events throughout the state over the past month and blanketing television screens with ads on broadcast, cable and streaming services. North Carolina also sports a full roster of competitive contests, including races for U.S. Senate, governor and Supreme Court, all of which have contributed to the ad mix and the push to turn out voters.

Both Republican and Democratic campaigns have crowed about the positive signs they're seeing in the early turnout numbers.

"Our strategy all along is not just to bank the biggest lead that we could, but bank voters who had a lower propensity to turn out in this election," Hillary for America Campaign Manager Robby Mook said on a conference call with reporters on Friday.

The phrase "lower-propensity voter" is campaign-speak for first-time voters or those who vote sporadically. The idea is that, once those shakier voters are locked in, campaigns will then have an easier time making sure steadier voters show up to the polls.

"Republicans have to stay motivated despite what you hear from the media. We can't take our foot off the gas," North Carolina Republican Party Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse said in an email Friday.

It's not just candidates and parties that drove early voting turnout and will continue to press voters to get to the polls next week. Nonprofit groups with political leanings across the political spectrum have been urging voters to turn out in different ways.

"I'm very proud that we are working together with NALEO Educational Fund to motivate people to get out and vote and providing them with tools to make informed decisions about this year's elections," said Iliana Santillán, a Community Organizer for El Pueblo, which advocates for the interest of Latino residents.

Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group, is also urging voters to get to the polls, knocking on 370,000 doors in North Carolina alone.

"Our 2016 ground operation is an unprecedented effort demonstrating the political muscle of the pro-life movement," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, SBA List's president.

North Carolina has had a tumultuous year of election changes. Courts have struck down congressional and legislative districts drawn by lawmakers as impermissible racial gerrymanders. Wake County also saw its school board and county commissioner elections rearranged due to court action.

The rules governing voting and early voting changed mid-year as the result of court action as well. The same ruling did away with North Carolina's much-debated voter ID law and expanded the early voting period from 10 days to 17 days. While that period matches the number of calendar days available in 2012, many counties didn't open as many one-stop voting centers, especially during the first seven days of early voting.

That's because the court ruling came down in August, and elections officials had to scramble to find sites to open when early voting started on Oct. 20. The result in many counties, such as Wake, Forsyth and Guilford, was a limited number of early voting locations Oct. 20 through Oct. 26, with more offerings available for the final 10 days of the one-stop period.

In Wake County, which had nine early voting locations open in 2016 compared to 16 in 2012, there was growth in early voting numbers anyway. By the time early voting wrapped up, the county had set a record with more than 302,000 voters casting ballots.

Early Voting By County

The following data breaks down early voting figures by county. Click on each "+" sign to examine total votes in the county or votes by Democratic, Libertarian, Republican or unaffiliated voters. Wake, Durham, Johnson, Orange and Franklin counties are listed first. All other counties come after that in alphabetical order.

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This data includes early in-person votes and mail-in ballots reported to the State Board of Elections as of 6 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 6. This data includes only "accepted" ballots, which will definitely count on Election Day, and not spoiled, provisional or other ballots where the status is not yet confirmed.

Other counties struggled to keep pace early on in the 17-day early voting period.

In Guilford County, for example, there was only one early voting location open in 2016 during the first seven days, and that location wasn't open on the first weekend of the one-stop period. As a result, around 8,000 Guilford County voters cast early in-person ballots during the first seven days combined. Since Guilford County expanded to 25 sites for the last 10 days of early voting, more than 8,000 people voted each day, with more than 22,000 voting on Oct. 27 alone.

Broadly speaking, Democratic voters have shown a greater tendency to use early voting than Republicans. Turnout among Democrats and some key Democratic constituencies appeared to be down for the first part of the early voting period. However, Republican and Democratic voters alike, along with unaffiliated voters, have now made up that ground and outpaced their 2012 performance.

"We are seeing sharp increases in African-American turnout now that more early voting locations have opened up," said Marlon Marshall, the Clinton campaign's director of political engagement.

Early ballots won't be counted until Election Night after the polls close. Polls will be open Tuesday from 6:30 am to 7:30 pm.


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  • Barney Gravel Nov 7, 2016
    user avatar

    The stock market feels the same way, in anticipation of "closure," tomorrow it is up 264 points. Hey democracy is ugly.

  • Kathryn Adams Nov 6, 2016
    user avatar

    Can you imagine what the turnout would be like if early voters could somehow opt out of all the election coverage as soon as you'd voted?