With six days of early voting left to go, North Carolinians hit a milestone: Elections officials have accepted more ballots from people who voted early in person during this election than during the full early voting period for the 2014 midterms.
Nearly 1.1 million people have cast their votes in person so far, the latest data from the State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement show. More than 41,000 ballots have been mailed in.
The overall number of ballots accepted — in person and absentee — in the first 12 days of early voting this year has not yet surpassed 2014, when there were 10 days of early voting. More absentee ballots have been requested than in 2014, but fewer have been turned in so far.
It’s difficult to predict the final turnout, but analysts expect it to be high. Close observers of North Carolina politics note that no previous election makes an ideal comparison. In a recent blog post, J. Michael Bitzer, a professor of politics and history at Catawba College, put it this way: “The dynamics are a bit weird this year.”
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The confounding factors are many. Bitzer points out that 2018 is a “blue moon” election in North Carolina because there are no major statewide races on the ballot. Normally, that would be expected to depress turnout. However, there are six constitutional amendments on the ballot, which could be boosting voter interest.
Surveys suggest that enthusiasm for voting is high. A Pew Research Center survey in September found the highest level of voter enthusiasm in two decades. A majority of the 1,439 registered voters who responded to the survey said they considered their votes an expression of support or opposition to President Donald Trump.
Reading the tea leaves is also complicated by changes in the state’s early voting rules. North Carolinians were given nearly twice as many days of early voting this year compared to 2014, but in some parts of the state, there were fewer polling places.
North Carolina has also been battered by two recent storms — Hurricane Florence, then Tropical Storm Michael. Turnout is down from 2014 in most storm-damaged areas. Robeson and New Hanover counties are the exceptions so far.
A News & Observer analysis of voting during the first 12 days found:
▪ More young voters have cast early ballots than in 2014. Voters between the ages of 18 and 29 submitted 7.3 percent of the ballots accepted so far this year, compared to 5.9 percent during the last midterms.
▪ Fewer black or African American voters have cast early ballots than in 2014. They submitted 20 percent of the ballots accepted so far this year. That compares to nearly 25 percent in 2014. The share of registered African American voters who have turned in ballots this year is likewise down. In 2014, nearly 20 percent of registered African-American voters cast an early ballot; so far this year, the figure is 15 percent.
▪ More non-white voters of other groups have been voting. Nearly twice as many Asian voters have submitted ballots this election compared to 2014. Voting is also up among people registered as Indian American, two or more races, other or undesignated.
▪ Unaffiliated voters submitted a larger share of ballots than in 2014 — 26.7 percent this year compared to 20.4 percent in 2014. But unaffiliated voters haven’t turned out in great numbers compared to the number registered. Less than 14 percent of unaffiliated voters have cast a ballot so far this year, compared to 18 percent of registered Democrats and 16 percent of registered Republicans.