Early voting started at a fast clip, with nearly 300,000 votes cast at one-stop sites in the first four days, according to the State Board of Elections.
Turnout is being watched closely because the major parties and their allies are pouring money and effort into getting their voters to the polls in a year when spending on the U.S. Senate race between incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan and Republican challenger Thom Tillis is breaking records. A new controversial law chopped seven days off the early voting period, shortening it to 10 days.
More than twice as many voters cast ballots in the first four days of early voting compared to the first four days of the last midterm election in 2010. The total through Sunday was about 20,000 short of the 2010 early voting total after eight days, according to state Elections Board data.
Early voting started Thursday and ends at 1 p.m. Saturday.
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The numbers show that voters adjust to the changed schedule, said Francis De Luca, president of the conservative Civitas Institute in Raleigh.
“We’re not seeing some huge spike in turnout,” De Luca said. “It’s just more concentrated.”
Michael Bitzer, political science professor at Catawba College, performs a daily analysis of one-stop voting.
Through the first four days this year, ballots cast by registered Democrats are at 93 percent of where they were at this time in 2010, Bitzer said. Unaffiliated voters are nearly at the same level as they were four years ago, and Republicans are at 68 percent of their 2010 one-stop total.
“This may show that an energy and enthusiasm ‘gap’ that is at the national level for Republicans over Democrats may be reversed in North Carolina,” Bitzer said in an email. “We’ll definitely need some additional days of in-person voting to add in, but the trend compared to 2010 seems to show that both Democrats and unaffiliated voters are performing at their comparable levels from four years ago, while Republicans aren’t quite there yet.”
Turnout of unaffiliated voters so far is surprising, he said, because they are the least likely to vote in mid-term elections.
At this point in 2010, African-Americans had cast 18 percent of the one-stop ballots, Bitzer said. This year, African-Americans have cast 26 percent of the one-stop votes.
White male Republicans were the largest voting segment in the 2010 early voting period, said Bob Hall, executive director of left-leaning Democracy North Carolina. In 2008 and 2012, African-American female Democrats were the largest group of early voters.
This year, Hall said, the new voting laws may motivate opponents to cast ballots.
“A lot of people in the African-American community are very upset and feel personally insulted and attacked” by the new laws, Hall said. “It does inspire people to go to the polls.”
Early voting is a habit for many. Bitzer’s analysis showed that more than half of those who voted early in the first three days this election cast ballots at one-stop sites in 2010.
I.B. Nickles of Raleigh says he always votes early to beat the Election Day crush.
The onslaught of television ads didn’t move Nickles, 65, to vote for either Tillis or Hagan.
“I didn’t like either one,” said Nickles as he left an early voting site in Raleigh. He voted for Libertarian Sean Haugh.