Local Politics

Few problems reported as voters make 'steady' turnout

Interest has been so intense that more than 5.8 million people statewide registered to vote in the election, up almost 200,000 since the beginning of the year.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Few problems were reported Tuesday as voters cast ballots in presidential and state primaries that were expected to break turnout records.

State elections director Gary Bartlett said turnout was "steady ... not tremendously heavy." The presidential nomination seemed to overshadow primaries for governor, Senate and statewide office.

In what many consider the most meaningful North Carolina primary in years, voters will choose between a black candidate and a female candidate – both veteran politicians – for the Democratic nomination for president to face John McCain in November.

The gubernatorial pool of candidates is also deep. Contests from Congress to Council of State to county commissioner also are on the ballot.

Polls are open until 7:30 p.m. Click here to find your polling place.

The voting site in the town of Oriental in Pamlico County, will stay open until 8:30 p.m. because of a delay that forced the site to open an hour late. Bartlett said that wouldn't impact releasing results.

Several voters and poll workers in Pine Level escaped injury Tuesday afternoon after a car smashed into the polling place at the Pine Level Fire Station, police said.

An 86-year-old woman was pulling in outside the station to vote when she stepped on the accelerator instead of the brakes, police said. The building sustained extensive damage but was deemed structurally sound, so voting resumed in the back of the station after a 10-minute delay, police said.

Interest has been so intense in the election that more than 5.8 million people statewide registered to vote in the election, up almost 200,000 since the beginning of the year. About 45 percent of registered voters identified themselves as Democrats; 33 percent enrolled as Republicans and 21 percent were unaffiliated with either party.

Unaffiliated voters could choose to vote in either the Democratic or Republican primary.

Long lines were expected at many polling places. State elections officials predicted record turnout of about 40 percent of those registered, which is almost double the normal turnout for a primary.

If you encounter a crowd, take a photo and send it in for the WRAL.com Primary 2008 slideshow.

Hundreds of thousands of people got an early jump on the process, casting ballots in recent weeks at the one-stop voting centers set up across the state. Through Monday morning, elections officials had counted 469,445 early ballots, with about 85 percent voting in the Democratic primary.

The Democratic presidential race between U.S. Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton drove much of the voter interest. The tight contest to win the nomination made North Carolina's 115 convention delegates meaningful for the first time in a generation. In recent presidential elections, candidates in both parties had locked up the nominations before North Carolina voters went to the polls.

The state also has 19 super-delegates, elected officials and party officials who are not bound by the election result can vote for whomever they choose at the convention.

Obama and his wife, Michelle, will watch the returns from North Carolina's and Indiana's primaries in North Carolina State University's Reynolds Coliseum. The event is open to the public, but tickets are required and were all claimed Tuesday morning.

Clinton is expected to be in Indianapolis.

Being in play brought North Carolina a lot of attention from the candidates and their surrogates. Former President Bill Clinton and the Clintons' daughter, Chelsea, criss-crossed the state along with Hillary Clinton in recent weeks, as did Obama and his wife, Michelle. Still, a much-anticipated debate between the candidates at the RBC Center last month fell through because the two sides couldn't agree on a date.

The race has tightened considerably in recent weeks as controversial comments by Obama's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright – he blamed the U.S. government for provoking  9/11 and said the government created HIV to destroy minorities in the country – diverted attention from Obama's platform. Although Obama denounced the comments, polls showed a large percentage of voters statewide questioned Obama's beliefs because of his link to Wright, former pastor of the church Obama attends in Chicago.

Races for governor, Senate

The state Republican Party stepped into the fray by trying to link Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue and State Treasurer Richard Moore, the leading candidates for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, to Wright in a television advertisement. U.S. Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, called the ad "offensive," and he and other major GOP figures unsuccessfully demanded the ad be pulled.

Even without the Republican Party's help, however, the gubernatorial races became chippy.

Moore linked Perdue to the Ku Klux Klan in two recent ads – spots that former Gov. Jim Hunt said "crossed the line" – and Perdue vowed to run a positive campaign after early accusing Moore of being too closely aligned with Wall Street investment bankers.

On the Republican side, state Sen. Fred Smith and former state Supreme Court Justice Robert Orr questioned the conservative credentials of Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, saying the Queen City's taxes were too high and McCrory had overstated his efforts to battle illegal immigration.

With Perdue seeking higher office, four Democrats and four Republicans were vying to run for lieutenant governor. Polls show name recognition is low among most of the candidates, and it was unclear whether any of them would be able to garner enough votes to avoid a runoff.

In the Democratic race for U.S. Senate, state Sen. Kay Hagan and Chapel Hill investment banker Jim Neal led a five-candidate field for the right to take on incumbent Elizabeth Dole, who faces minor primary opposition, in November. Hagan and Neal share many of the same views, and the biggest headlines the race had garnered to date were tied to Neal's sexual orientation.

Local issues

Further down on the ballot, five candidates were vying to become district attorney in Durham County and be the permanent replacement for Mike Nifong. Nifong was forced to resign and was stripped of his law license last year for his handling of sexual assault allegations against members of the Duke University lacrosse team.

Orange County was among three counties statewide seeking voter approval of a 0.4 percent tax on real estate sales to finance growth-related needs. The land-transfer tax was defeated soundly last fall in all 16 counties that voted on it. Meanwhile, 20 counties were seeking permission to impose a 0.25 percent local sales tax, including Cumberland, Edgecombe, Lee, Moore, Nash, Wayne and Wilson.

Programming notes

Coverage and analysis of all the races and results will be available throughout the evening on WRAL.com and on WRAL-TV beginning at 8 p.m.

"NCIS", "Shark" and "CSI: Miami" will be preempted on WRAL in order to air election returns.

  • "NCIS" will air Wednesday at 3:30 a.m.
  • "Shark" will air Thursday at 3:07 a.m.
  • "CSI: Miami" is a repeat and will not be rescheduled.