Early voting racks up big numbers

Posted March 12, 2016
Updated March 13, 2016

— Maybe it was the new, earlier primary date. Maybe all those Donald Trump rallies and presidential debates got voters fired up. Maybe Tar Heels were just looking for things to do between ACC tournament games.

Whatever the reason, North Carolina voters came to the polls early in big numbers this year.

According to an analysis of early voting data provided by the State Board of Elections, 682,679 voters cast early in-person ballots during the one-stop period. That's about 10.5 percent of the state's 6.47 million registered voters. It does not include those who cast ballots by mail.

"It's significant, even though it's not a huge percentage increase. Just look at the number of people taking advantage of a shorter early voting period," said Meredith College political science professor David McClennan.

In May 2012, the last big presidential primary, 492,332 voters cast early in-person ballots, representing about 7.8 percent of the total registered voters at the time.

This year's turnout is a record for early voting, but it's unclear if overall primary turnout will be bigger once the polls close on Tuesday.

"We have fewer days and more people, so it does show a real increase in interest in voting early," McClennan said. "Just seeing the big jump of almost 200,000 voters participate in early voting, it really is a sign that we may see higher turnout overall in the primary than we did four years ago."

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So who turned out? More women than men: 378,192 versus 296,461. (If you notice that doesn't add up to the total early voters, some voter registrations don't note demographic characteristics like gender and race.)

Registered Democrats and Republicans showed up in about equal numbers relative to their voter registration, although Democrats maybe were "feeling the Bern" to get to the polls a little bit more.

Democratic voters totaled 311,021 in North Carolina, compared to 214,652 early Republican voters.

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The story was different among unaffiliated voters.

Unaffiliated voters showed up in numbers about 2 percentage points below the statewide average, which is typical for a primary. When unaffiliated voters go to the polls, they can choose which ballots they want. This year, the Republican ballot appears to have generated more interest among unaffiliated voters.

During early voting 2016, 71,284 unaffiliated voters asked for Democratic ballots, but 83,055 unaffiliated voters asked for Republican ballots. The remainder voted unaffiliated – ballots that contain the bond referendum, judicial elections and other nonpartisan contests – or Libertarian ballots.


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