With an expensive Senate race that broke records, North Carolina saw an unusually busy midterm Election Day on Tuesday.
Millbrook Elementary Magnet School in North Raleigh was giving out about 100 “I Voted” stickers per hour, and voters crammed the parking lot from morning to evening.
Despite a quiet slate in South Durham, close to 800 people had voted at Parkwood Fire Department by 9:45 a.m.
At Raleigh’s Hedingham polling station, the wait to vote was an hour long at 6 p.m.
“Oh, it’s a huge line. It’s wrapped around the parking lot,” said voter Todd Lineberger.
In Johnston County, the State Board of Elections debated keeping three polling stations open past the standard 7:30 p.m. closing time, said spokesman Josh Lawson.
One of those, in Bentonville, had opened 90 minutes late Tuesday morning, according to the state board.
The board ultimately decided not to keep those stations open later but did keep a polling station in Robeson County open for an extra 45 minutes because it ran out of ballots during the day.
The signs of a busy Election Day have been weeks coming. Early voting turnout was up about 2 percentage points compared with 2010. In all, more than 1.2 million North Carolinians voted early this year.
“It almost reminds me of a presidential election,” said Charlie Collicutt, director of the Guilford County Board of Elections.
Democrats made notable gains in early voting, with nearly 20 percent of their registered base turning up before Election Day, compared with 16 percent in 2010. Black voters also showed up in higher numbers, casting 44 percent more votes early than in 2010.
For some of the state’s most reliable voters, the U.S. Senate race between Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan and Republican state House Speaker Thom Tillis may have seemed like so much noise.
“The money was actually wasted,” said Ebby Crawford, 68, as she left a North Raleigh polling station Tuesday. “After the first soundbite, people turn it off.”
Fight over fliers
Election Day also brought last-minute jostling between campaigns and advocacy groups.
In Wake County, the North Carolina Association of Educators sent a letter to the State Board of Elections complaining that state Rep. Tom Murry, a Republican from Morrisville, had paid for and distributed “look-alike” fliers that cloned its apple-themed endorsement cards. They said the cards gave the false impression that NCAE endorsed Murry.
The cards read, “Please vote for these candidates who support our teachers and work on legislation supported by the North Carolina Association of Educators.” Murry, who’s in a tight race with Democrat Gale Adcock, was not available for comment Tuesday afternoon.
There also were reports of other disruptions. Guilford County had problems with touchscreen machines that temporarily registered the wrong votes for at least 14 voters. Each of those voters noticed and corrected their vote; the county posted signs about the issue.
In Wake, some recently naturalized citizens were pulled aside for questioning, based on a list of 1,425 “likely non-citizens” provided by the State Board of Elections. As of 5:30 p.m., all the Wake residents on the list who tried to vote had been cleared as citizens.
At the edge of Durham County, Mia Prior, 60, complained that an N.C. Department of Transportation paving project nearly derailed her voting trip.
“There were no signs. There was no detour,” she said. “If you were on your lunch hour, you probably said, ‘To heck with it, I’m just going back.’ ”
Michelle Gaddy, resident engineer for DOT, said crews directed traffic to an alternate route.
Back in North Raleigh, Margarita Torres, 72, made her way several blocks to Millbrook Elementary, crossing roads and braving traffic to vote.
“I never miss this,” she said. Staff writer Sarah Nagem contributed.