It used to be that Election Day meant just that, citizens had one day to show up at the polls and cast a ballot. In North Carolina, however, that dynamic changed with the implementation and subsequent surge in popularity of early voting.
This year, early voting for the November general election began Thuursday in every county across the state and will run through 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 1.
A list of early voting sites can be found on the State Board of Elections website at ncsbe.gov.
In 2013, the General Assembly cut an entire week off the early voting period, shortening it from 17 days to 10 days. However, lawmakers also required counties to maintain the same number of early voting hours they offered during the last midterm election in 2010. In order to maintain the same numbers of hours with seven less days, most counties will open additional early voting sites and offer extended hours.
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In fact, when you look at the sites available for all 100 counties, the state will have 70 more early voting sites in 2014 than it did in 2010. Although there are more sites open, there is also a slight drop in the cumulative number of early voting hours this year compared to 2010, according to the State Board of Elections.
Early voting is very popular in North Carolina and in 2012 more than half of all votes cast were cast during early voting. This is likely because it offers voters the flexibility to vote over a period of weeks, instead of just one day. Additionally, since citizens are able to vote at any early voting site in their county, it’s often more convenient to not wait until Election Day when you are required to vote in your home precinct.
While early voting has certainly been a game changer for the citizens of North Carolina, it has also had a major impact on campaigns and elections. No longer can candidates plan on just the final push before Election Day. With voting underway 10 days before Election Day, and a significant percentage of votes cast during early voting, candidates and campaigns have had to reframe and retool their communication with voters.
A robust early voting period may make life a little more difficult for the candidates, but it has clearly made participation in the democratic process easier for our citizens. Whether a voter will be out of town on Election Day, working all day or just concerned about the unexpected event that might keep them from the polls, early voting offers a convenient alternative to Election Day.
With early voting sites opening, we have officially reached the final phase of the 2014 elections. In just a matter of days the television ads will go silent, yard signs will disappear and the people will have spoken.
It’s the circle of life for our democracy. So if your candidate of choice loses in November, just remember another election, and another opportunity to make your voice heard, is right around the corner.
Brent Laurenz is executive director of the N.C. Center for Voter Education and a contributor to TheVoterUpdate.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.