“Around 60,000 people early voted in Orange County alone,” Tracy Reams, director of the Orange County Board of Elections, said. “Overall, the turnout in the state has been tremendous.”
The total number of early ballots has surpassed 2012 numbers by 12.2 percent. The increase has been driven largely by high turnout among unaffiliated voters, who saw a 41.2 percent growth in their early turnout over 2012.
“The early voting numbers we’ve seen this year are historic,” Ferrel Guillory, a professor at UNC, said. “And a big part of that was the landmark court decision in July that undid a lot of the damage done by the legislature in restricting the Voting Rights Act and enabling voter ID laws.”
That decision, made by U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, overturned photo ID laws, expanded early voting and reinstated same-day registration. The decision has been praised as lifting unfair burdens on voters, said Bryan Warner, spokesperson for Common Cause N.C.
“This year should be evidence to everyone of the effects of fair election laws,” Warner said. “Certainly there have been issues here and there, but this early voting process has been run efficiently and the effect is we have unprecedented turnout. Forty-five percent of registered voters voted early.”
Jen Jones, spokesperson for Democracy N.C., said more could still be done to increase turnout.
“We could have seen these already historic levels rise even higher if not for some problems that have yet to be addressed,” Jones said. “Lines in certain precincts are still over an hour long, and there’s still a major disconnect in terms of getting voters information on changes to election law.”
Jones said many voting issues seemed to be handled more efficiently over time.
“We have a voter hotline open during all voting hours — voters can call us and report any problems at the polls,” Jones said. “Eighty percent of the calls we got during this early voting period were during the first week that early voting was open. The election administration seemed to get better throughout the weeks.”
Warner said voter education was key, adding that if he could ensure every voter had one piece of information, it would be that they no longer need to present photo ID, such as a driver’s license, if they planned to vote on Tuesday — also a result from the 4th Circuit Court ruling.
Democratic turnout has been higher than that of the GOP by about 10 percentage points. In 2012, this difference was about 16 points, in favor of the Democrats.
As of Monday, the Quinnipiac Poll had Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton ahead by three points in North Carolina, but The New York Times polling had the state in a statistical tie between Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump.