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Latest: Voting tops 2014 levels

Posted November 6, 2018 4:00 a.m. EST
Updated November 7, 2018 12:03 p.m. EST

— Months of campaigning, weeks of negative ads on television and a record-breaking early voting period have come down to this: Election Day is here.

Polls open across North Carolina at 6:30 a.m. and close at 7:30 p.m., but everyone in line by 7:30 p.m. will be allowed to vote.

10 p.m.: According to the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, vote totals have surpassed 2014 levels, with results of 900 precincts statewide still to be counted.

7:30 p.m.: Polls have closed statewide, with a handful of exceptions.

7 p.m.: Some polling sites are reporting long lines of people waiting to vote with less than 30 minutes before polls are scheduled to close.

Unless state officials approve an extension for some unforeseen circumstances, polls across North Carolina are supposed to close at 7:30 p.m. But everyone in line at 7:30 is allowed to cast a ballot.

"It’s not just about us. It’s also about the kids and how we vote and how it affects their future. So I think it’s important that everyone go out and vote," Shital Vyas said while waiting in line to vote in Raleigh's Brier Creek neighborhood.

6 p.m.: Power has been restored to the polling site at St. Andrew's Catholic Church in Apex.

5:25 p.m.: Wake County elections officials have sent a generator to a polling site in Apex affected by a power outage. The outage left voters at St. Andrew the Apostle Catholic Church in the dark, but the generator will power the lights. Officials said the vote-counting machine can run on battery power.

5 p.m.: One precinct in Columbus County will remain open until 9:20 p.m. because it didn't have one of the three ballot styles voters in that precinct could receive when it opened Tuesday.

"We messed up," said Damon Circosta, a member of the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement who proposed extending the hours at the polling site.

Officials said they think about 15 to 20 voters were affected, and they have tried to contact them to offer them a chance to return.

Elsewhere, the state board approved a 20-minute extension at a precinct in Gaston County where voting was delayed during a school fire drill, even though no voters were affected. The board rejected a request to extend voting at a precinct in Richmond County by 10 minutes and took no action on a 15-minute delay that occurred at a Rowan County.

4:49 p.m.: State elections officials say several hundred voter registration applications were affected by issues related to a technical upgrade in mid-July to September as they were being transferred from the state Division of Motor Vehicles. Almost 400 applications – some of them duplicates – from voters all over the state were affected.

"We don’t know exactly why those records weren't successfully transferred at that time," said Patrick Gannon, spokesman for the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement.

At least 134 of those registrations were cleared up, he said, and all voters affected should be allowed to vote, albeit some of them by provisional ballot.

An additional 109 applications in Columbus County didn't make it into the county system because of a server issue there in September. They too should be able to vote by provisional, if needed.

The issues affected only a small percentage of voter registration applications, state officials said. Between July 11 and Sept. 24, the state board successfully sent 168,729 DMV records to the counties.

3:40 p.m.: North Carolina is on track for a 48 percent voter turnout, according to projections from Catawba College professor Michael Bitzer. That would be the highest turnout for a midterm election since 1990, when turnout was an astounding 61.8 percent.

Turnout in North Carolina's last "blue moon election," when there are no presidential, gubernatorial or U.S. Senate elections on the ballot, was 36.6 percent in 2006, according to the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement. Back then, the total number of votes cast was just over 2 million, which was about the same number cast during this year's early voting period.

2:45 p.m.: A Durham native who works in Washington, D.C., caught a late-night bus to vote in the Bull City early Tuesday before flying back to Washington to go to work. The reason: the absentee ballot she requested never showed up in the mail.

"I only got about two hours of sleep, but it was worth it," Emily Miller said.

1:30 p.m.: Fun fact, according to Wake County elections director Gary Sims, this is the first election when Wake County had to use 17-inch-long paper for its ballots. Although the number of races and issues voters are deciding is fewer than two years ago, the verbiage voters have to read for six proposed constitutional amendments and at least three bond issues meant the county needed to have a longer ballot than usual.

1 p.m.: Wake County elections director Gary Sims said problems with vote-counting machines are slowly subsiding as staff works to get fans into polling sites affected by high humidity.

About eight precincts are still affected, mainly in the northern part of the county, down from 15 or so earlier in the day, Sims said. Many have been at fire stations or in school gymnasiums, where it's hard to regulate the temperature and humidity, he said.

"The machines are actually very sensitive devices," Sims said of the 12-year-old tabulators. "If moisture hits the ballots, basically that causes the tabulators to say, 'Hey, I don't like this, and you need to do something else.'"

The county has set aside money in its capital improvement program to purchase new tabulators after this election, he said.

12:30 p.m.: 106-year-old Catherine Ferrell cast her ballot in Durham, saying she remembers a time when she wouldn't have been allowed to vote.

"I have never missed a voting opportunity," Ferrell said. "If I can go at 106, everyone should go. Don’t complain about what happens if it doesn’t go your way."

10:20 a.m.: Vote tabulators in 20 Wake County precincts aren't working properly because of high humidity levels, according to to Gannon.

"When ballots cannot be read by tabulators, they are stored securely in 'emergency bins' and will be tabulated as soon as possible," Gannon said in a news release. "All ballots will be counted."

The state board conducts an audit after the election to ensure that the number of authorization-to-vote forms people sign upon entering the polling site matches the number of ballots counted from that precinct.

WRAL News received emails Tuesday morning from voters at two Wake County polling sites complaining of machine malfunctions.

Elections officials said the ballots would be counted later in the day at the precinct, if possible, or Tuesday evening at the Wake County Board of Elections office, which has a high-speed tabulator.

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Although 2018 is a so-called "blue moon election" in North Carolina because it lacks a presidential, a gubernatorial and a U.S. Senate race, interest has been ratcheting up in recent weeks as Democrats and Republicans jockey for power in both the General Assembly and Congress.

North Carolinians turned out in droves for early voting, with nearly 2 million casting ballots during the 18-day period, according to state elections officials. That's a 74 percent increase from the last midterm election in 2014, but there were only 10 days of early voting then.

Still, early voting has accounted for only 28.8 percent of the vote this election, and about 5 million registered voters have yet to cast a ballot. Tuesday is their day.

Amendments, legislative seats highlight ballot

All 13 U.S. House seats from North Carolina and all 170 seats in the General Assembly are up for election.

Republicans hold a 10-3 seat advantage among the 13 congressional seats, where district maps drawn by GOP lawmakers have been thrown out by federal courts twice. Changing demographics have led to tight campaigns for a couple of seats.

In the 2nd District, which covers a chunk of the Triangle, Democrat Linda Coleman is trying to unseat three-term Republican Congressman George Holding. In the 9th District, which stretches from Charlotte to Fayetteville, Mark Harris knocked off Congressman Robert Pittenger in the GOP primary and now faces Dan McCready.

For the first time in recent memory, nearly every state legislative seat is contested this election. Democrats are trying to break the GOP's veto-proof majorities in the House and the Senate and will need to flip at least four House seats or six Senate seats to do so. Breaking that stranglehold will provide them and Gov. Roy Cooper more leverage to negotiate budget priorities and policy proposals.

Much of the campaigning has focused on teacher salaries and health care on the left, and low taxes and economic growth on the right. Political experts say suburban districts will likely be crucial to both parties' efforts.

The only statewide races this year are for one seat on the North Carolina Supreme Court and three seats on the state Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court race pits Republican incumbent Barbara Jackson against Democratic civil rights lawyer Anita Earls and Raleigh attorney Chris Anglin, a former Democrat who's running as a Republican.

But six proposed amendments to the state constitution will be on the ballot and voted statewide:

  • A requirement that voters provide photo identification at the polls
  • A reduction in the maximum allowable income tax rate
  • An expansion of crime victims' rights
  • A guarantee of the right to fish and hunt in the state
  • Two proposals to shift the power to fill judicial vacancies and to appoint the members of the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement from the governor to lawmakers.

Although voter ID was part of a lawsuit that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, there has been little vocal campaigning for or against it. Rather, outside groups have pushed hard against the two power-shift proposals and for the victims' rights amendment, often called Marsy's Law after a California murder victim.

Further down the ballot are races for county commissioner, sheriff, district attorney, school board and trial court judges.

All seven commissioner seats and all nine school board seats are on the Wake County ballot, as are three major bond issues: $548 million for school construction and renovation, $349 million for Wake Technical Community College growth and $120 million for more parks, greenways, recreational facilities and open space.