CARY — One by one and in pairs, they have been trickling into the community center in the heart of Cary since early voting began.
The turnout there has made it the busiest of Wake County’s five early-voting sites outside of the downtown elections office headquarters. With 635 ballots cast, it is propelling the county on a pace to surpass the 2010 primary early voting.
Still, in the scheme of things, it’s a trickle.
“It must be really boring at the other sites if this is the highest,” said Nellie Greer, 66, of Apex, who was there as a campaign volunteer for a district attorney candidate.
That’s pretty much the story across the state now that early voting is underway. With fewer days in which to vote because of the new state elections law, people don’t appear to be waiting. About 18,000 more voted on the first day this year than in the 2010 primary.
Even though early turnout is up, the numbers remain small. Through Monday, 95,277 ballots had been cast – 90,051 of them one-stop voting and the rest mailed in. In a state with 6.5 million voters, that barely counts as a sliver.
If this were the general election, there would already be lines out to the street, said Michael Bitzer, a political expert at Catawba College. But this is shaping up to be a typical primary: In 2010, barely 20 percent of the ballots were cast by Election Day. Statewide voter turnout in the 2010 primary was only 14 percent.
“North Carolinians love early voting, but they love it in a general election,” Bitzer said. “Maybe not so much in primary elections.”
Potentially greater impact
Yet that low primary turnout gives each vote greater impact, he said. This year, for instance, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis will be scrambling to get more than 40 percent of the vote. If he doesn’t, there will be a runoff in July.
In the only other statewide race, state Supreme Court Justice Robin Hudson is fighting to stay in office by staving off two challengers, Jeanette Doran and Superior Court Judge Eric Levinson. The two top vote-getters will face off in November.
“When you’re dealing with this kind of low turnout, literally every vote will make a difference because of the impact that one vote can potentially have,” Bitzer said.
It’s hard to identify trends at this point in the voting, but there may be early indicators.
There are more Democrats in North Carolina, and they tend to vote early. So far registered Democrats are voting at a higher rate: 49 percent of those who have voted; Democrats represent 42 percent of the registered voters. So far, 46,477 registered Democrats have voted and 30,693 Republicans have voted.
Francis DeLuca, president of the conservative Civitas Institute, which has been analyzing voter turnout data on its Vote Tracker website since the 2010 general election, said the Democratic turnout is interesting in an election that doesn’t have a “marquee race” for that party.
“It’s being driven by some of the local races,” DeLuca said. “Also, get-out-the-vote efforts among Democrats are much better organized. They have a lot more groups out there turning out those who typically vote Democrat, like minorities, the young and college students. Republicans and older people tend to vote on Election Day.”
But Civitas numbers-cruncher Susan Myrick doesn’t see the results necessarily heralding a big Democratic turnout. At this point in 2010, she says, Democrats made up 51 percent of the early voters; this time around they are at 49 percent. Republicans remained a consistent 32 percent in both years.
Independents voting early
More unaffiliated voters are casting early ballots this year, 19 percent compared with 17 percent in 2010. So far, they’re mostly asking for Republican ballots – almost 60 percent contrasted with almost 37 percent. Myrick said she thinks it’s all about the U.S. Senate race. Unaffiliated voters do not have to vote for the same party in the general election as they did in the primary.
Justin Shelton, 23, of Raleigh cast his vote in Cary on Tuesday specifically because the new elections law shaved a week of early voting from 17 to 10 days. He said he usually votes early and didn’t want to miss out this time.
“I have the power to vote, so I think I should exercise that right,” Shelton said.
Myrick contends the numbers show losing that week doesn’t matter. This year, nearly 28,000 people voted on the first day of early voting, while 10,648 voted the first day in 2010. At eight days before this election, about 10,000 more votes have been cast than at the same point in 2010, when people had been voting for 12 days.
“Proving people know how to budget their time,” she said.
Jarvis: 919-829-4576; Twitter: @CraigJ_NandO