With the 2020 presidential primary decided in North Carolina, it's unclear how much changes in state laws have affected voter turnout since 2016.
With the early voting period being extended from nine to 17 days and uniform open hours at polling places being mandated by the state, some counties have been forced to decrease the number of polling locations, but it appears this has had little effect on voter turnout across the state.
In an interview Friday, Rachel Raper, director of the Orange County Board of Elections, said in Orange County, evidence leading up to election day was pointing to voter turnout in this year’s primary being similar to the 2016 primary.
“I really feel like it’s going to be about the same," she said. "It might be a little less or a little more, than in March of 2016.”
According to data from the North Carolina State Board of Elections (NCSBE), early voter turnout increased slightly both in Orange County and statewide between 2016 and 2020, after a decrease in polling places and an increased early voting period duration.
Of the just under 7 million people registered in North Carolina before the primary, 11.42 percent voted early this year. And of the more than 110,000 registered voters in Orange County, around 20.37 percent voted early. Data from the Board of Elections show a 2.70 percent increase in statewide turnout over 2016 and a 6.20 percent increase in turnout in Orange County over 2016.
However, due to many voters choosing to wait to vote on Tuesday, overall turnout still increased between 2016 and 2020, going up from 43.72 percent to 44.87 percent in Orange County.
In an interview with The Daily Tar Heel Friday, Patrick Gannon, public information officer for the NCSBE, said he expected voter turnout to increase as election day neared due to the number of Democratic voters who planned to wait to vote so they could see how candidates were polling in other states.
“A lot of Democratic voters, from our understanding, might be waiting to see what happens in other states with the presidential primary, so we anticipate that the last couple days of early voting and election day will be pretty busy,” he said.
Lisa Richardson, a Carrboro resident, voted on Tuesday for this reason.
“In primaries, I tend to vote on the day (election day) because there can be a lot of changes to who’s running and who’s in the race. So I kind of purposely waited until today,” she said.
Carson Mosso, another Carrboro resident, agreed.
“I was just waiting to see if anyone would drop out,” he said.
Despite the increased turnout numbers, Raper said in Orange County, turnout demographics appear to be remaining similar to 2016.
“I don’t feel like anything glaring has popped out between (presidential races) in our changing demographics,” she said.
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