Fewer than 10% of possible voters opt for early voting ahead of Super Tuesday in North Carolina

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Monday, March 4, 2024
Nearly 700,000 early votes cast in North Carolina primary
The State Board of Elections reports about 690,000 North Carolinians have cast ballots ahead of election day on Super Tuesday.

The State Board of Elections reports about 690,000 North Carolinians have cast ballots ahead of election day, a figure which represents less than 10% of eligible voters.

"What we know from the data so far from the early ballots is that the mean age is up in the mid 60's. That is a very old electorate. Folks who are under the age of 45, so meaning millennials and now Gen Z, only make up about 13% of all the accepted early ballots," explained Dr. Michael Bitzer, a political science professor at Catawba College.

North Carolina is among 15 states holding primaries on Tuesday including Texas and California.

In North Carolina, unaffiliated voters make up about 37% voters, making it both the largest and fastest-growing voting bloc in the state. Unaffiliated voters have the option to choose a Republican or Democratic ballot in the primary, and according to Bitzer, have largely chosen the Republican ballot this cycle.

"That's not surprising to those of us that study North Carolina politics, because in general, what they tend to do is follow where the most competitive presidential primary is," said Bitzer.

A battleground state, North Carolina has seen cross-over voting in recent elections.

"It is indeed about mobilizing your base voters to show up in November, but it's also about that small sliver of the electorate that could go either way. For example, in 2020, we had Donald Trump, Thom Tillis and then Roy Cooper (win in North Carolina). That is a classic dynamic in North Carolina politics that plays itself out," said Bitzer.

In 2020, primary voter turnout was just over 31%, a dip of about five percent from 2016, and the lowest figure for a primary in a presidential election in North Carolina since 2004.

"The likelihood is we'll probably end up somewhere in the mid 20s to perhaps 30% voter turnout in 2020," Bitzer predicted.

Voting rights groups have held information sessions and engaged in outreach ahead of election day, as they work to answer questions and address possible barriers to access.

"There's still questions about photo ID. 'Do I need my ID to vote and what ID's will count?' We get a lot of questions from students regarding whether their student ID will be able to count. That is probably the number one thing that we're hearing," said Marques Thompson, Organizing Director with the advocacy organization Democracy NC.

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According to the State Board of Elections, the number of registered Democrats has decreased by more than 80,000 people over the past two years, while the number of registered Republicans has increased by more than 50,000. While there are still more registered Democrats in the state, reversing those trends and connecting with voters is a goal of North Carolina Democratic Party Chair Anderson Clayton.

"All we've got to do is actually go out there, show up and re-engage communities that haven't felt Democrats in them," said Clayton.

In 2022, the party did not contest more than 40 state legislative seats, which Clayton vowed to address during her first one-on-one interview with ABC 11. A year after assuming the position, that goal has largely been met, as Democrats are running candidates in 168 out of 170 legislative seats.

"We've got people out there contesting races that they honestly don't have a chance in hell of winning, but they're excited to in any way and they think it's important for voters everywhere across the state to have a choice," said Clayton.

On the short-side of a supermajority, Democrats' presence in those races force Republicans to invest resources in what had previously been walk-in victories, while also establishing a presence that could impact turnout in other elections.

"All our statewide candidates this year have done an amazing job of getting out into those communities and going from county to county, from Murphy to Manteo," said Clayton.

She further emphasized the importance of clear messaging and voter education.

"The fact that we've got $7.25 minimum wage, the fact that we're a right-to-work state, the fact that we're not actually able to fight for what workers need in North Carolina, to me is a direct attack from our Republican legislature. But the fact is that most North Carolinians don't know that right now. And so in order for us to be able to even get a Democratic message out in these communities, it's important for us to contest these races," said Clayton, who also listed public education funding and reproductive rights as other key issues this cycle.

Despite the presidential race at the top of the ticket, Clayton said the onus is on candidates to make direct appeals to voters.

"We have one of the only competitive governor's races in the entire country here in North Carolina. It's going to be really, really important for them to focus on local issues. When people look at me and say, 'what's the messaging for North Carolina,' I always (ask) 'where are you sitting in it? What part of the state are you in,' because it's going to be different where you are," said Clayton, who pointed to marijuana legalization in light of a new dispensary set to open next month in Cherokee and water rights in eastern North Carolina as two specific topics of interest.

As a result of new electoral maps, political analysts believe Republicans will likely flip at least three Congressional seats, with Democratic incumbents Rep. Jeff Jackson, Rep. Kathy Manning, and Rep. Wiley Nickel all opting against running again.

ABC 11 has reached out to the NCGOP, and is in the process of setting up an interview with its leadership to discuss election strategy and voter outreach measures. NCGOP Chair Michael Whatley has recently announced his candidacy for RNC Chair.