Raleigh, N.C. — A steady stream of voters queued up for a chance to vote Friday morning at the Wake County Board of Elections office on Salisbury Street, reflecting turnout figures that show more than 1.1 million North Carolina voters cast their ballots before Election Day.
"My work is threatening to send me on a business trip next week," said Oakley Julian, who does tech support.
She and her fiance, Jesse Bentley, voted together Friday morning. The couple moved to Raleigh from Maryland, where Bentley has consistently used early voting.
"It's more convenient," he said.
More North Carolina voters like Julian and Bentley than ever before turned out during the early-voting period. Roughly 17.5 percent of all registered voters have already cast their ballots.
Saturday was the last day of early voting and saw a rush at many polling places, including in Wake County where it took some voters who lined up by 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. to cast their ballots. Statewide, 106,651 voters cast an early in-person ballot on Saturday. Of those, State Board of Election data analyzed by WRAL show 10,361 voted in Wake County.
Both Republican and Democratic political operatives are claiming that the turnout figures bode well for their chances on Election Day.
2014 early voting in North Carolina
Click on a county for early vote details, including the number of Republican, Democratic and unaffiliated voters who cast ballots through Nov. 1. Registered voters reflects the total number of voters eligible to vote as of Oct. 10. The "% early voters" line reflects the percentage of those registered voters who cast early ballots.
Source: N.C. State Board of Elections
"We're on a pace right now we're very happy with," said Preston Elliott, U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan's campaign manager.
Hagan, a Democrat, is locked in a close general election battle with Republican state House Speaker Thom Tillis.
Elliot said that both overall turnout and turnout in key Democratic strongholds has been encouraging, as well as who is showing up. The electorate, he said, is more diverse than in in prior years.
"A big chunk of those are voters that didn't vote in 2010 that are voting now," Elliott said, crediting Democratic turnout operations with pushing voters to the polls who might have otherwise stayed home.
But Republicans say they're seeing exactly what they expected.
"There have been a lot of people voting in rural areas, and those are usually Republican strongholds," said William Allison, a spokesman for the North Carolina Republican Party.
Although Democrats have had an edge in the percentage of early voters who turned out, that lead has shrunk throughout the early-voting period.
"We feel like we're on track to win," Allison said.
There's a limit to how much early-voting numbers can say about the election. For one thing, there is a strain of conservative Democrats who typically vote for Republicans in national elections, said Catawba College political science professor Michael Bitzer.
So, even though Democrats are casting a higher proportion of the early votes compared with their share of overall voter registration, he said, "we have to take that Democratic number with a gain of salt."
Also, roughly 19 percent of those who have voted early were unaffiliated voters. That's unusual because unaffiliated voters typically have much-depressed turnout numbers in midterm elections. The 19 percent number is close to what Bitzer said he would expect to see during a presidential election.
One thing remains very consistent from prior midterm elections: Older voters continue to make up the bulk of this year's early voters. Roughly three-quarters of those who voted early are over the age of 50.
Asked why he was voting early on Friday, Stephan Kiefer of Raleigh said that he wanted to make sure his civic duty didn't interfere with his obligations as a grandparent.
"Tuesday, I'm going to be babysitting grandchildren," he said.
Number of early voters by age
This chart shows the the number of voters who cast early votes according to how old they are.
Source: N.C. State Board of Elections.