Early voters break turnout records at 2.7 million

lbonner@newsobserver.com November 3, 2012 

— Campaigns call it “get out the vote,” and what that has meant so far in this presidential election is email and telephone calls bombarding voters for weeks – and in some cases, visits to their homes – with reminders to vote early.

The results of these efforts were evident Saturday in the hundreds of voters who waited hours in lines that snaked down sidewalks and around buildings as they waited their turn to cast ballots.

Shannon Hunsaker, waiting to vote in Wake Forest, said she received between seven and 10 local calls last week from Republicans urging her to make it to the polls before Election Day, in case Hurricane Sandy put a hitch in voting.

Hunsaker, 42, of Raleigh said she would have voted even without the prompting but didn’t mind the calls.

“It’s understandable,” said Hunsaker, who stood in a line where people were waiting two hours and more to cast ballots. They spent the time talking to friends, checking their smartphones, reading books or just soaking up the sun.

Campaigns for President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have invested heavily in local offices and volunteer organizing in this state. Obama won early voting in 2008 by a margin that was large enough to catapult him to a narrow victory in the state.

The Romney campaign has spent more time on get-out-the-vote efforts than Sen. John McCain did four years ago, and campaign staffers have sent out regular memos about how many phone calls their volunteers have made and how many more doors they’ve knocked on.

Before early voting ended Saturday, it had broken turnout records. More than 2.7 million people had voted at one-stop sites or by mail, topping the 2.6 million who had done the same in 2008.

Final one-stop totals will be available Monday.

The popularity of early voting is evident in the numbers, said state elections director Gary Bartlett.

“Voters have shown – whether they are Democrat, Republican or unaffiliated – that they like early voting because it works in their schedule,” he said Saturday.

More than 47 percent of those who voted early were registered Democrats, according to the latest figures.

More than 31 percent were registered Republicans, and 20 percent were unaffiliated.

The Obama campaign said that it expects the race in North Carolina to come down to the wire but that it is getting newly registered voters to the polls. By their calculations, Romney would have to win 65 percent of the vote on Election Day to win the state.

“New voters we’ve registered and already turned out are just huge in North Carolina,” Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said in a conference call with reporters Saturday. “We continue to believe we can make that number bigger on Election Day. We feel great – not good, but great about our ground operation in North Carolina.”

The Romney campaign says it is winning early voting because it has closed the gap, compared to 2008, between registered Democrats and Republicans who have gone to the polls.

“The Democrats continue to spout false statistics out of desperation because they know they’re losing in North Carolina,” Rachel Adams, Republican National Committee North Carolina spokeswoman, said in a statement.

“We have already cut into the Democrats’ 2008 early vote margin by more than nine times the President’s slim 14,000 vote margin of victory. We have gained 131,975 votes through the first sixteen days of early voting and are confident we will maintain this momentum on Election Day.”

The Obama campaign push through Election Day includes visits to the state by former President Bill Clinton and first lady Michelle Obama.

Glenn Murphy of Raleigh was one of the new Democratic voters who waited to cast a ballot Saturday.

Murphy, 37, said he’d received three or four calls from campaign workers for the past few months and in recent days, up to five emails a day.

Heather Murphy, 34, said campaign workers had dropped by their home twice.

The campaign volunteers who came by last week was very eager to have her vote early, she said.

“They were very persistent,” she said. “You kind of felt obligated.”

Bonner: 919-829-4821

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