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Early Voting Sets Records; N.C. Parties Make Late Turnout Push

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The last weekend of one of the hardest-fought election seasons in decades brought a final push to boost voter turnout in North Carolina.

As candidates up and down the ballot turned to recorded phone messages to try to boost their support, both major parties also focused on old-fashioned grass-roots politics, fueled by volunteers knocking on doors.

The weekend push for turnout was the climax of a lengthy effort in North Carolina, where early voting set records this year. When early voting ended Saturday, state officials expected up to 1 million people to have voted -- as many as 18 percent of all registered voters.

"Privately, we were saying we're going to reach 600,000. Instead, we had 982,597 and when you add our mail absentee [ballots], we're at 1,170,000," said Gary Bartlett of the state Board of Elections.

By the time polls close Tuesday, Bartlett expects overall turnout of around 65 percent.

North Carolina's record of 68 percent was set in 1984.

"It was Ronald Reagan versus Walter Mondale and Jesse Helms versus Jim Hunt," Bartlett said.

Four years ago, 56 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the Bush-Gore presidential election and just 350,000 people voted early.

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