More voters unaffiliated with a political party have cast ballots so far this year than at the same point four years ago.
Unaffiliated voters cast 24 percent of votes through Tuesday, including mail-in ballots and the first six days of in-person, one-stop voting. That is lower than the 30 percent of registered voters who are unaffiliated but more than the 18 percent of votes through the same period in 2012.
In 2012, “unaffiliated, if they were going to show up, they waited until Election Day,” said Michael Bitzer, a political scientist at Catawba College.
“Something is happening - I’m not sure we know what it is. This could be a fundamental reshaping of how early votes and Election Day votes go this year,” he said.
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The election so far by the numbers:
▪ The more than 812,000 people who have cast ballots at the polls and by mail so far this year is down from the 828,000 at the same point in 2012. But in-person voting is holding roughly steady statewide, and it has increased sharply in Wake County.
▪ Democrats have cast 47 percent of the early-voting ballots by mail and in person. That’s down from 51 percent in 2012 but greater than the 40 percent of the state’s registered voters who are Democrats.
▪ Republicans are 30 percent of registered voters and have cast 29 percent of votes so far, compared to 30 percent in 2012.
▪ Of only those voting in-person, a little more than 69 percent of early voters are white, close to the 69.7 percent of the state’s registered voters who are white. A little more than 25 percent of those in-person voters are African-American, while 22.2 percent of registered voters are African-American.
So far, African-Americans are not voting at the same rate as four years ago, Bitzer said. Numbers will pick up after Thursday, he said, when more early voting sites open.
Democratic campaigns emphasize getting their supporters to vote early.
In 2008, Democrat Barack Obama won more votes in the state during early voting. Although Republican John McCain got more votes on Election Day, Obama had already built an insurmountable lead and won the state by about 14,000 votes.
Obama again built up a cushion during early voting in 2012, but Mitt Romney won enough votes on Election Day to win the state by about 97,500 votes.
The presidential candidates and their surrogates are blanketing the state to encourage people to vote early.
In a memo, Republican National Committee political director Chris Carr said Republican early voting numbers improved from four years ago, referring to a growing lead in absentee ballots returned by mail.
Guilford, the state’s third most populous county, had a single site open in the first week of early voting. On Thursday, early voting in Guilford expands to 25 sites. In-person voting in the first six days was down sharply in the county. In 2012, 51,183 had voted in Guilford by this time. This year, 6,473 had voted.
Forsyth, the state’s fourth largest county, adds 16 early voting locations to the one it opened last week. Forsyth has had 7,226 vote in-person so far, compared to 11,694 four years ago.
Wake County on Thursday will add 11 sites to the nine that opened last week.
So far in Wake, 53 percent of people voting in person are registered Democrats, 19 percent are Republicans, and 28 percent are unaffiliated. As of Tuesday night, 64,251 had voted in person in Wake, compared to 54,093 over the same time in 2012.
Some have faced long lines to vote, but Greg Webb, 28, had a relatively short wait at the Board of Elections office in downtown Raleigh.
Webb lives downtown and didn’t want some unexpected conflict that could come up on Election Day to prevent him from casting a ballot.
“I really wanted to make sure I voted this election,” he said.
Shirlkeymu Winston, an assistant professor of history at St. Augustine’s University in Raleigh, arrived at the early voting site at Chavis Community Center with two carloads of students. Two more carloads will vote Friday, she said.
The students are members of the Campus Activity Board and have been phone-banking and getting people to volunteer, she said.
Hillary Clinton campaigned on the historically black university’s campus on Sunday and greeted voters at Chavis.
Bobby Hill, 20, cast his first vote for president in what he said is a “nation-changing election.”
Hill said he voted for Clinton, and was left cold by Donald Trump’s appeals to African-American voters.
Hill took Trump’s observation that black voters had gotten nothing by backing Democrats for years as a shot at Barack Obama.
“For someone to come at a race like that - you don’t need someone like that in office,” Hill said.
In Johnston County, 46 percent of in-person voters are registered Democrats, 32 percent are Republicans, and 22 percent are unaffiliated. Johnston will add three locations Thursday to the one it opened last week, and will add a fifth on Friday.