State Politics

Early voting in NC draws record turnout

Wake County voters line up well out the front door at the Herbert C. Young Community Center early voting site during lunchtime in Cary, NC, Friday, March 11, 2016.
Wake County voters line up well out the front door at the Herbert C. Young Community Center early voting site during lunchtime in Cary, NC, Friday, March 11, 2016.

Spurred by lively presidential primary races, North Carolina voters this weekend wrapped up 10 days of early voting by turning out in record numbers.

The state Board of Elections reports that almost 11 percent of the state’s 6.5 million registered voters cast ballots. That’s up from about 8 percent in the 2012 presidential primary.

In all, 710,260 early ballots were cast, which includes one-stop voting as well as standard absentee, military and overseas ballots.

Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in the state by 40.6 percent to 30.5 percent. Democrats cast 45.3 percent of the early ballots, while Republicans cast 31.7 percent. For Democrats, that’s about the same as 2012, when they cast 45.5 percent of the early votes. Republican early turnout was down from 33.8 percent in 2012.

Meanwhile, the number of unaffiliated voters has been increasing in North Carolina. It now stands at 1.9 million people, and they cast 22.8 percent of the vote this year, compared with 20.5 percent in the 2012 primary early voting. Unaffiliated voters can vote in either party’s primary.

Registered Democrats have increased by 88,000 and Republicans by 55,000 since the 2012 early-voting period. Conventional wisdom has it that those who typically vote Democratic, such as minorities and the young, tend to cast ballots early, while Republicans and older voters tend to wait for Election Day.

State elections officials reported no major problems with voting ahead of Tuesday’s election.

There were 2,567 early voters who had to cast provisional ballots because they didn’t have photo identification or other acceptable documentation. Durham County led the state in the number of such provisional ballots cast, followed by Orange, Robeson and Wake. Mecklenburg County was seventh.

Statewide, the early totals were boosted considerably by Saturday’s half-day of voting. In Wake County, which drew close to 7,000 voters on Saturday, there was strong early-voting turnout at the Lake Lynn Community Center in North Raleigh, the Herbert C. Young Community Center in Cary and the Chavis Community Center in Southeast Raleigh.

Wake County broke its early-voting record of nearly 40,000 in 2012, almost reaching 56,000. Voters waited in lines for an hour or two after the early voting sites closed.

Wake County officials, like their counterparts in the rest of the state, didn’t know what to expect with the primary date being moved from May to mid-March in the thick of presidential politics.

“It’s phenomenal,” said Gary Sims, Wake’s elections director. “This is a higher turnout than we projected. We tried to use some statistics from other states that have earlier primary elections. It’s been a long time since North Carolina had an early primary like this.”

Visits by the Republican and Democratic presidential contenders, and the heavy news coverage that followed, probably inspired people to vote, Sims said.

The State Board of Elections is reminding voters that Tuesday is not only Election Day, but the deadline to postmark mail-in absentee ballots. Ballots postmarked on or before Election Day will be accepted through March 18, though military and overseas voters have until March 21.

Craig Jarvis: 919-829-4576, @CraigJ_NandO