Tight races, large turnout – and voters’ true feelings

Shaw University students lead 'Stroll to the Polls'

The Shaw University band led students as they marched from campus to the polling place at Chavis Park Tuesday morning, Nov. 8, 2016.
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The Shaw University band led students as they marched from campus to the polling place at Chavis Park Tuesday morning, Nov. 8, 2016.

As the sun rose on Election Day, North Carolina’s statewide races were knotted as tightly as Pee-wee Herman’s bow tie. There were long lines around the Triangle as polls opened, and at least one marching band. Problems with machines that scan ballots popped up around the state.

Computer glitches in Durham led the county board of elections to ask state officials to extend voting by 90 minutes, until 9 p.m. New software slowed voting in some precincts, leading some would-be voters to leave the polls.

“It appeared that some of the data from prior elections had not been cleared out, and people were being improperly listed as having already voted,” said Bill Brian, chair of the county elections board. “They didn’t have the right software, it appears. Why that happened, we don’t know yet.”

Recent state polls showed dead heats in the races for president, U.S. senator and governor. The Tar Heel state was one a few considered crucial to Donald Trump’s chances of winning the White House as well as the Democrats’ hopes of retaking control of the U.S. Senate.

Scenes from the day:

5 p.m.: Crazy, disappointing, frustrating, depressing. Those were the words Johnston County voters used to describe how they felt about their choices at the voting booth.

“It’s crazy and it’s so sad,” said Joseph Grohman, 68, retired. “It’s so sad that we have to vote for the person we hate the least. Even that’s hard sometimes.”

While many voters were focused on the presidential race, others turned their attention to the North Carolina governor’s race, which pitted incumbent Republican Pat McCrory against Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat.

“I don’t think we’ve had a good governor so I definitely voted for a new one,” said 22-year-old Josie Guin, who teaches preschool at Adventure Under the Sun in Four Oaks. “And House Bill 2 has just been terrible. It’s like we (North Carolina) had come so far and then we just took so many steps back.”

HB2 struck down a Charlotte ordinance that would let people use public bathrooms based on their gender identity; the state law, signed and defended by McCrory, also prevents local governments from protecting the rights of gay or transgender people.

3:30 p.m.: At Gravelly Hill Middle School near Efland, voting slowed before lunch after a busy morning.

Sarah Copple, 80, walked with a cane out of the polling place. A retired nurse, Copple said she is a registered Democrat but has voted for many Republicans over the years. Not this year.

“I can’t stand Donald Trump’s nasty remarks,” she said. “I’d cut the TV off when he’d start, or just block it out. I just didn’t feel that he was a leader.”

Minutes later, registered Republicans Larry and Patricia Glenn, both 70, left the polling place after voting for every GOP candidate on their ballots.

Glenn downplayed Trump’s controversial comments about women and minorities.

“He’s not a politician. He doesn’t know how to say the right things,” said Glenn, a retired water plant operator. “Hillary, now, she’s a politician.”

His wife, also a retired nurse, supported Trump because she doesn’t think a woman should serve as president.

“I’m old school,” she said.

3 p.m.: Turnout appeared strong in Harnett County’s 16th precinct, where the line at Johnsonville Elementary School came out the door, across the parking lot and around the corner of the building shortly after the polls opened at 6:30 a.m.

“It was crazy,” said Donald Haire of Cameron, who was discouraged by the early-morning line. Haire, 49, came back in the early afternoon, when only a couple dozen people were waiting.

Haire, disabled after breaking his neck in a fall during an ice storm in 2000, said he is a Republican but would have voted for Hillary Clinton except for his fears that she would appoint a U.S. Supreme Court justice with liberal views on gun control.

“I don’t think every person needs to have a gun, but I think it’s our right, and I think she wants to take our guns away.”

Haire said he didn’t feel comfortable voting for Trump, either, but would do so.

“I’m scared he’ll push the button,” he said.

3 p.m.: At the First Baptist Church on North Roberson Street in Carrboro, Anja Brinich had come all the way from Norway to volunteer for the Orange County Democratic Party with her parents.

Brinich is an American citizen living in Norway. She voted absentee “months ago,” she said, for Hillary Clinton and has been following the election closely. To her, the sole fact that Donald Trump was a presidential candidate was a problem.

“Just that fact has lowered people’s respect for the country as a whole because there are so many people here that support that man,” she said. “It really says something about our country, and that’s very sad.”

Eighty-year-old Elaine Norwood was voting at the church and said she had spent time walking around her neighborhood asking people to vote, “even with my bad leg,” she said.

“This election is so important to black people and the poor,” said Norwood, a Democrat. “Some of the things (Trump) says are some of the worst I’ve ever seen in an election, and I am 80 years old.”

Though it was the first time UNC-Chapel Hill junior Ashwin Bhadury could vote, he said he was disappointed that it would be cast in this election.

“It’s not about who you want to vote for or who you believe in,” said Bhadury, who was also voting at the church. “It’s you can’t let Trump get elected, so you have to vote for Hillary.”

Noon: Students from St. Augustine’s University, a historically black college in Raleigh, said they heard much this year that made them shudder.

Stephen McLeon, student body president, said he and classmates heard candidates insinuating people his age were too lazy to vote.

“This just added fuel to our fire,” said McLeon, who helped organize hundreds of students to march together to their polling place and vote.

More than 500 students, many of them first-time voters, marched with the school’s band to Tarboro Road Community Center to cast their ballots. The college canceled classes and has organized parties for the students to watch election results together.

Landus Terry, a 92-year-old veteran who remembers not having the right to vote, waited in his wheelchair among the young voters.

“This is just brilliant,” Terry said. “I’m so glad I got the chance to see them doing something to better themselves and this country.”

11:45 a.m. An election monitor in Durham said several men from a group home were initially turned away from the polls when they could not produce identification. North Carolina law does not require voters to show identification to vote.

Audrey Shore, an election monitor with the non-partisan group Democracy NC, said a nurse drove five men from a group home to the polls at Southern High School in Durham. Shore said the nurse and five men emerged from the precinct without voting after two of the men were asked to produce identification.

An election official then came into the parking lot, told the men they could vote and asked them to return, Shore said.

“Two of the gentlemen cast provisional ballots, and the other three gentlemen cast regular ballots,” Shore said. A provisional ballot is used when administrative problems arise over a ballot.

11:30 a.m.: Dorothy McIntyre, 66, of Sanford voted Tuesday morning at Southern Lee High School, south of Sanford. A registered Democrat, McIntyre politely accepted brochures and sample ballots from volunteers outside the polls.

But the retired housekeeper is tired of the electioneering, including the six or seven phone calls she received on Monday.

“I wanted to come today and it be over with,” McIntyre said. She said she voted a straight Democratic ticket.

First-time voter Debbie Styron, 48, came to the polls with Roy Spivey, 60, who guided her through the process.

Spivey said he’s a Republican; Styron registered as unaffiliated and said she voted for Donald Trump.

“It feels good,” she said afterward. “You can’t complain if you don’t participate. And you never know.”

10:45 a.m.: Volunteers and organizers are astounded by the steady inflow of voters despite a record turnout for early and absentee voting this year.

“That’s what’s so surprising,” said Bill Yoder, Democratic precinct chair at North Raleigh Presbyterian Church. “I’ve never seen it like this. Look at this – it’s constant.”

William Ballantine, a Lowe’s cashier, said he voted for Trump because he and his wife are “staunch Republicans.”

Ballantine said Trump is in line with their values as “staunch Christian conservatives.”

Mike Braga, 27, is a public school English teacher who voted for Hillary Clinton. But he said his main disappointment was that Sen. Bernie Sanders didn’t win the Democratic nomination. “I think he would have trounced the other guy.”

9:30 a.m.: The sky was dark and frost blanketed the grass when Robert Martin, 60, pulled into the Parkwood fire station in South Durham 40 minutes before the polls opened.

A pharmaceutical manufacturing employee, Martin normally votes after work. But the emotionally charged campaign pushed him to vote before work.

Martin was the first of roughly 100 people waiting to vote when the polling place opened.

Martin, a self-described “blue-dog Democrat,” voted Republican for every office except one – president.

“Trump, I just don’t buy into the way he is,” Martin said. “I think Hillary’s qualified. She’s had a rough election and she’ll do a good job.”

Beth Moore, 71, a retired data manager for Durham Public Schools, said she voted for Trump for president. She declined to say whether she belonged to a political party.

“I would like, as he put it, ‘The swamp cleaned up,’ ” she said.

“I think he was running to help people and didn’t need to be president,” she said. She said Clinton hadn’t been truthful as secretary of state.

She voted a split ticket, choosing Cooper over McCrory because of the HB2 law that McCrory signed into law.

“People lost a lot of business and jobs because of that,” she said.

Gene Alston says that no matter who wins, he will support them because he is a citizen of the United States of America.

Stacey Wilson voted early Tuesday morning with her two children in Raleigh, N.C.

7:45 a.m. Within the first hour of polls being open, voters lined up at the door at Southeast Raleigh Magnet School, a precinct dominated by Democrats. More than 200 voters had cast ballots before 7:45 a.m, according to Takoya Leach, chief judge of the polling site.

Cooper, the Democratic candidate for governor, greeted voters as they walked in to cast their ballots. Cooper has been slightly ahead of McCrory, the incumbent Republican, in the latest polls.

“I’ve been hearing concerns about our state going backwards. And that’s not who we are,” Cooper said. “I think people who vote today will say that loud and clear.”

Sharon Duplin, 66, woke early to cast her ballot at the precinct before commuting to Research Triangle Park to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

“I needed to know that I put my ballot in the box and that it was counted. Not being counted wasn’t a risk I could take in this election.”

A lifelong Democrat, Duplin said anger drove her to the polls to vote for Clinton. She would be devastated if Trump prevailed.

“I think I’d have to call in sick to work,” she said.

Duplin said the tone of this election cycle has caused her deep heartache.

“If people were one tenth as passionate about homelessness or elderly people getting their medication, think about what we could accomplish.”

Jessie Byars, 36, said he promised his daughters that he would vote before a job interview later on Tuesday. He voted a straight Democratic ticket. Byars said he knows how sacred that right to vote is, having lost it for two years while in prison for a felony conviction.

“You can’t assume someone else is going to cast enough votes for the person you want to win. We all have a responsibility,” he said.

As for why he voted for Clinton, he laughed.

“I don’t know what I would tell my daughters if they knew I voted for a man who talked about women like Trump does,” he said. “I wouldn’t have voted for him even if he was a Democrat.”

6:30 a.m. Turnout appeared to be heavy as the polls opened in Wake County.

As daylight broke outside the Yates Mill Elementary School precinct in Southwest Raleigh, voters waited for the doors to open in a serpentine line of cars that stretched more than 400 feet from a dirt-and-grass parking area to the turn lane into the school on Yates Mill Pond Road.

The precinct generally tilts Republican. Thom Tillis defeated Kay Hagan there by 274 votes in the 2014 Senate race.

Staff writers Ron Gallagher, John Murawski, Mandy Locke, Dan Kane, Virginia Bridges, Megan Cain and Eric Frederick contributed.

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