We’re seeing some interesting early voting numbers across the state this week.
But as everyone tries to parse absentee ballot figures and read party-breakdowns of early voting figures like tea leaves it’s worth taking a look at how many people are voting early, where they are voting early and why.
Overall, the state has so far seen a dip in early voting compared to four years ago – likely the result of attempts to limit the number of early voting sites and the number of early voting days.
In the first four days of early voting in 2012, there were 412,765 ballots cast statewide. The first four days this year: 408,905.
But in this year’s highly contentious election season, those numbers would likely be significantly higher had first-week initial early voting sites not been scaled back.
A comparison of two counties is instructive.
In Wake County, nine early voting sites have been open since last Thursday. That’s down from 16 sites four years ago. Yet a surge of early voters in Wake has led to 51,709 votes cast as of Tuesday. That’s up nearly 10 percent from four years ago, even despite fewer sites.
The originally proposed plan would have had just one early voting site in Wake County – but the state board of elections called that unworkable and ordered an expansion.
Guilford County wasn’t so fortunate.
For the first time, just one early voting site – at the Old Guilford County Courthouse in downtown Greensboro – has open in the first week.
The result: 5, 298 people have voted in Guilford.
That’s actually a good number, given that some have been standing in line for more than an hour to cast an early ballot.
“It’s impossible to do an apples to apples comparison,” said Guilford Elections Director Charlie Collicutt. “We don’t have figures for having just one site. But I’ve never seen a single site in a single day do anything like what we’re doing.”
Compared to 2012, when 16 early voting sites were available, Guilford has seen a drop of about 85 percent.
Collicutt said the Blue Room, the voting site at the Guilford County Courthouse, is so packed there’s barely room to move as his staff estimates they are averaging 2.8 voters per minute.
On Thursday, 24 additional locations will open across the county.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Collicutt said. “I’m looking forward to seeing some of those big numbers.”