Local Politics

Early voting sets first-day record

Posted October 17, 2008 12:36 p.m. EDT
Updated October 17, 2008 4:44 p.m. EDT

— More than 100,000 people across North Carolina cast ballots Thursday on the first day of early voting, state officials said Friday.

The number shattered the previous record by about 40 percent, said Gary Bartlett, executive director of the State Board of Elections.

"We were expecting long lines from the beginning," Bartlett said. "I do not think it will thin out. I think it will increase, especially during the last week and a half. I believe that there will be continuous lines."

In Wake County, 7,917 people cast ballots Thursday, including 2,088 at Cary Town Center and 1,975 at Triangle Town Center. Lines snaked around both malls, as people waited for up to 30 minutes to vote, officials said.

Durham County elections officials said 6,264 votes were cast Thursday, up 40 percent from the highest daily total in 2004.

“Democracy had a terrific day,” Michael Ashe, director of the Durham County Board of Elections, said in a statement. “As citizens continue to vote early, I expect (Thursday’s) record will be broken."

Similar records were set across the state:

  • Close to 4,000 people voted in Cumberland County.
  • Voters waited in line as long as two hours at some Charlotte early-voting sites, prompting officials to consider opening extra polling places.
  • Kay Hagan, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, decided against casting her ballot Thursday when she saw a line of voters wrapping around the Guilford County Courthouse.

"We're a battleground state, which has created a lot of enthusiasm and excitement (among voters)," Bartlett said.

Party officials said they expected heavy turnout for early voting.

"We had our best turnout effort ever in 2004. We think early voting is going to be a way to push it even further," said Brent Woodcox, spokesman for the North Carolina Republican Party.

"For months now, we've seen (growing) registration numbers, excitement and people looking forward to this opportunity," said Courtney Crowder, a vice chairman with the North Carolina Democratic Party.

Almost two-thirds of those who voted Thursday were enrolled Democrats, while 21 percent were enrolled Republicans and 15 percent were unaffiliated. It was unclear whether they voted along party lines.

"People, I think, do have a strong slate of Democratic candidates to vote for. I'd like to think that everyone of those Democratic voters are voting for the Democrats," Crowder said.

"North Carolina has a history of Democrats who have been registered Democrats for a very long time who want lower taxes, more jobs and a better economy. We think we can still win those votes this time around," Woodcox said.

Elections officials said they hope to get as many people as possible to cast early ballots by Nov. 1 to limit congestion at the polls on Election Day.

"One of the last things we need is three- and four-hour lines after the polls close (on Election Day)," Bartlett said.