Despite fragility of abortion rights, NC voter turnout remains strong but not extraordinary at the close of early voting

Campaign signs were numerous outside a Wake County early voting site. Photo: Clayton Henkel

The final push is on and get out the vote efforts shift to Tuesday in an election in which the key for Democrats and Republicans has been to rev up enthusiasm among their most reliable voters.

As early voting wraps up, the vote totals are higher than at this time in the last midterm election, but that’s mainly because the state has more registered voters. Turnout as a percentage is down slightly and, as yet, there are no signs of a red or blue wave.

In-person early voting ends at 3 p.m. Saturday. The total number of mail-in ballots accepted and this year’s 17 day early voting is expected to top 2 million running roughly 50,000 votes ahead of 2018’s 18 day early voting period.

Although there was no statewide race in 2018, turnout was the highest for a midterm election in more than 50 years. This year, with a close U.S. Senate race and critical legislative and judicial seats in the balance, turnout appears similarly strong. But this year’s outcome remains difficult to predict following the 2020 presidential election cycle, which saw record turnout and a big shift in voting patterns due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A pattern of normalcy”

Two years ago, more voters chose to vote early, either by mail or in-person. Whether those voters continue to do so or shift back to voting on Election Day is an open question.

Professor Chris Cooper – Photo: WCU

“It’s a question of substitution versus turnout,” Western Carolina University political scientist Chris Cooper said. “Substitution being ‘I’m voting early instead of Election Day’ and turnout being ‘I’m voting early instead of not voting at all.’ There’s just no way to tease that out until Election Day.”

What he is seeing in the voting patterns so far is “a lot of normalcy.”

That’s probably good news for Republicans and underlines the challenge for Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Cheri Beasley and other Democrats in a cycle that’s traditionally tough on the president’s party, he said.

“They need to see a disruption in history, they need to see a different kind of voting pattern. Because this is Biden’s midterms, so we expect Republicans to gain and the Democrats to lose and I don’t see anything in the data thus far that challenge’s that assumption,” he said.

That includes the gender breakdown, which so far remains similar to prior elections despite predictions that the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, which ended federal protections for abortion, would drive up turnout among women as it has earlier this year in other states with primaries that followed the decision.

Impact of abortion rights debate remains unclear

A Meredith Poll released in late September showed the abortion ruling to be a strong motivator for North Carolina Democrats, but so far women continue to lead men in turnout at roughly the same pace as prior elections.

“Dobbs, thus far, has not led to a massive activation in female voters,” Cooper said. Read more

In-person voting starts Thursday: Where things stand and what NC voters need to know

Photo by Hill Street Studios/Getty Images.

North Carolina’s 359 early voting sites open up this week for in-person voting and same day registration.

This year’s in-person early voting period runs from Thursday October 20 to 3 p.m. on Saturday, November 5. Election Day is Tuesday, November 8.

Voters can use any early voting site in the county where they’re registered. The State Board of Elections maintains an online lookup for sites and schedules at https://vt.ncsbe.gov/OSSite/.

According to statistics provided by the board, the number of sites in this year’s election represents a 17% increase in the number of locations over 2018, which had the highest turnout in 50 years despite being a so-called “Blue Moon” election year with no statewide race at the top of the ballot.

Absentee ballot requests for voting by mail and civil and military overseas voters continue through November 1.

So far, more than 45,000 voters have already cast absentee ballots in the 2022 general election, a total that’s well ahead of 2018’s record pace, but still below that of presidential election years.

Registration for voting on Election Day closed last Friday, but same day registration is available through the in-person early voting period. If you want to register and vote at an early voting site, you’ll be asked to provide one of the following:

  • a North Carolina driver’s license.
  • Other photo identification issued by a government agency. Any government-issued photo ID is acceptable, provided that the card includes the voter’s current name and address.
  • A copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document showing the voter’s name and address.
  • A current college/university photo identification card paired with proof of campus habitation.

ID is not necessary for voters who are already registered.

The following is from a release distributed by the State Board of Elections

The State Board offers the following 10 tips for early voters:

  1. Voters may cast a ballot at any early voting site in their county. For sites and hours in all 100 counties, use the One-Stop Early Voting Sites search tool. Also see One-Stop Voting Sites for the November 8, 2022 Election (PDF).
  2. Sample ballots for the primary election are available through the Voter Search tool. For more information on candidates for the N.C. Supreme Court and N.C. Court of Appeals, see the State Board’s Judicial Voter Guide 2022: Midterm General Election. The State Board does not provide information about candidates for other contests, but some media outlets and advocacy groups do. Many candidates also have websites and social media accounts. Knowing your candidate choices in advance and being familiar with the ballot will help your voting experience go more smoothly.
  3. Individuals who missed the regular voter registration deadline on October 14 may register and vote at the same time during the early voting period. Same-day registrants must attest to their eligibility and provide proof of where they live. For more information, visit Register in Person During Early Voting. This is the only option for individuals who missed the regular registration deadline to be able to register and vote in the general election.
  4. When you check in to vote at an early voting site, you may update your name or address within the same county, if necessary.
  5. Voters who receive an absentee ballot by mail may deliver their completed ballot to an election official at an early voting site in their county. Ballots will be kept securely and delivered to the county board of elections for processing. For more information on returning absentee-by-mail ballots, see Detailed Instructions to Vote By Mail.
  6. Voters who requested an absentee-by-mail ballot but have not yet returned it may choose instead to vote in person during the early voting period or on Election Day, November 8. Voters may discard the by-mail ballot and do not need to bring it to a voting site.
  7. Under state law, all early votes – by mail and in person – are considered absentee votes because they are cast “absent” of Election Day. You can see that your early vote counted in the “Your Absentee Ballot” section of the Voter Search database. Type in your first and last names to pull up your voter record. Scroll down to the “Your Absentee Ballot: By Mail or Early Voting” section. Once your ballot is received by your county board of elections, “Absentee Status” will show “VALID RETURN,” the “Return Method” will be “IN PERSON” and your “Return Status” will be “ACCEPTED.” Your ballot status also will show up in the “Voter History” section of your voter record as soon as your county completes the post-election process of compiling the information on who has been recorded as having voted during the election through the various voting methods. This may take a couple of weeks or longer.
  8. The State Board asks that all voters respect the rights of others to participate in the election. Intimidating any voter is a crime. Voters who feel harassed or intimidated should notify an election official immediately.
  9. Voters at one-stop early voting sites are entitled to the same assistance as voters at a voting place on Election Day. Curbside voting is available for eligible individuals at all early voting sites. For more information, visit Curbside Voting.
  10. North Carolina law prohibits photographing or videotaping voted ballots. Voters may use electronic devices in the voting booth to access a slate card or candidate information, provided they don’t use the devices to communicate with anyone or take photographs of their ballot.

For more information about early voting, please visit Vote Early in Person.

Registration by the numbers Read more

As race remains tight, Beasley and Budd will hold only debate of Senate campaign Friday night

The first and only debate in North Carolina’s 2022 U.S. Senate race takes place Friday night at 8 p.m., giving voters their first look at the state’s next senator on a debate stage this cycle.

Neither candidate participated in a debate during the primary. Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice and Democratic Party nominee Cheri Beasley’s top challengers dropped out before filing opened and Rep. Ted Budd, the GOP front runner, declined debate invitations throughout the primary season.

The hour-long debate, moderated by Spectrum News “Capital Tonight” host Tim Boyum, will be on Spectrum 1 and livestreamed on Spectrum news sites.

Locked in an extremely tight contest according to recent polls, Friday’s back and forth promises to be a study in contrasts and comes at a time when both campaigns and their allies are ramping up negative ads.

As one of the key races that could determine control of the Senate and among the elections seen as a proxy battle between the current president and his predecessor, the stakes extend beyond our borders, but so far national interest in the race has been muted.

In state, it’s a different story with 2022 turnout so far on track to eclipse the modern high water mark for a non-presidential year set in 2018.

Absentee mail in voting began September 9 and so far more than 138,000 ballots have been requested with about 15% already returned, far ahead of 2018, but still well short of the totals in a presidential election year.

Polls Polls Polls

WRAL and Civitas/John Locke are both out with new polls of likely voters showing the Senate race tied and the gap between Democrats and Republicans in the state’s generic ballot narrowing.

Survey USA’s September 28 to October 2 poll for WRAL of 677 likely voters put Budd at 43%, Beasley at 42% and 13% undecided. Libertarian Shannon Bray’s support was at 2% and Green Party candidate Matthew Hoh less than 1%.

Cygnal’s September 24-26 poll of 650 likely voters for Civitas showed the Senate race tied at 44% each with 10% undecided, 1.3% for Bray and .6% for Hoh.

Both surveys continue to show a favorability edge for Beasley along with a significant gender gap.

In the WRAL poll, Budd ran 6 points ahead among male voters while Beasley was ahead with women by 4 points.

Registration Closing/In Person Voting to Start

Voter registration closes October 14. You can also register and vote the same day during the in-person early voting period October 22 though November 5.

Check to make sure you are registered and your information is up to date through the state’s voter look up tool, which also has links for downloading sample ballots for your precinct.

The deadline to request an absentee ballot is November 1. Ballots must be signed and returned to local board of elections offices by 5 p.m. on Election Day, November 8.

Mail in ballots must be postmarked on or before Election Day and received no later than November 14.

U.S Senate race update: Beasley and Budd tied in new poll

Polls show U.S. Senate candidates Cheri Beasley (left) and Ted Budd (right) in a dead heat.

A new Civitas poll that shows Cheri Beasley and Ted Budd tied is the latest in a string of indications that North Carolina’s U.S. Senate race has reached toss-up status.

The poll was released Thursday at a briefing by the conservative John Locke Foundation. It showed Beasley and Budd with 42.3% with 12.6% undecided. Libertarian candidate Shannon Bray was at 1.9% Green Party candidate Matthew Hoh, in his first poll after being added to the ballot, drew 0.8%. The margin of error is 3.9%.

The poll of 615 likely voters also found a shift in the generic ballot toward Democrats as well as a small bump in President Joe Biden’s approval rating from 32.9% in June to 38.7%.

In his presentation on the poll North Carolina State University political science professor Andy Taylor said it’s an increase but still dismal.

“This is an improvement for President Biden even though he’s wildly underwater,” Taylor said Thursday. “What can you say? He went from very bad to quite bad.”

Biden’s low approval ratings and historical trends that run against the president’s party in this cycle have driven predictions that the GOP will likely retain the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Richard Burr in the GOP.

That started to change earlier this month when the addition of two new polls that showed Beasley ahead shifted the polling aggregate.

In their combined polling analysis, FiveThirtyEight shows Beasley slightly ahead and Decision Desk shows Budd with a small lead. In both cases the differences are well within the margin of error.

Taylor said one key metric that showed why the race is tightening is that for the first time Beasley has moved ahead of Budd with seniors.

The trajectory of the race has caught the attention of national media as well, with the National Journal’s power rankings calling the race a toss-up, pointing to Budd’s struggles in fundraising in the crucial stretch ahead of early voting. Beasley out-raised Budd more than 3 to 1 in the last quarter.

The direction in North Carolina is part of a national trend that has increased the chance of Democrats maintaining their Senate majority.

On Wednesday, Cook Political Report shifted races in Pennsylvania and Colorado in favor of Democrats and increased the chances that the party could retain control of the chamber.

“Right now, we see the range between Democrats picking up one seat and Republicans gaining three. However, the most probable may be a net change of zero or a GOP pickup of one to two,” Cook’s senate analyst Jessica Taylor wrote.

Last February, Cook changed its rating in the North Carolina race from a toss-up to leaning toward Budd. A fresh analysis of the race is set for next week.

CYGNAL/Civitas

Ads and tours

Both candidates have been on the road this week.
Budd has been traveling to events with law enforcement organizations and recently picked up the endorsement of the North Carolina State Troopers Association.

At an event in Raleigh he pitched himself as the law and order candidate and said it’s time to “push back against false narratives” about law enforcement.

Beasley is continuing to work her way through small towns and rural communities, including a recent swing through coastal counties.

With a clear fundraising advantage, her campaign has increased its on-air presence over the month with ads on health care costs and criticisms of Budd’s recent votes in congress.

Budd was among a handful of House Republicans who sought unsuccessfully to amend the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act, calling for funds for the Internal Revenue Service to be moved to border security.

He launched his first major ad buy since the primary earlier this month, criticizing the Biden administration’s handling of inflation.

Reads

Green Party ordered on the ballot in Senate race

North Carolina Green Party Senate candidate Matthew Hoh says he’s ramping up his campaign now that a federal judge has ordered that the party’s nominees be placed on the 2022 ballot.

“From the very beginning, we have worked towards a speedy resolution to being placed onto the ballot; this is something that should have occurred two months ago,” Hoh said in an email. “We are excited to finally see troubling obstructions to democracy and the democratic process fall to the wayside, so we can lift up the values that compelled me to run as a candidate, in the first place.”

On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge James C. Devers ordered the State Board of Elections to put Hoh and state Senate District 16 candidate Michael Trudeau on this year’s ballot.

The decision comes after the board reversed a prior decision that questioned the validity of some petition entries and officially recognized the party.

Investigators with the board continue to look into whether a portion of the petitions submitted were fraudulent, but in its decision Monday the board heard evidence that there are not enough in question to put the party below the threshold required.

According to the Board of Elections running tally, there are currently 15,472 valid signatures, well above the 13,865 required.

The state’s two largest parties took sides in the months long controversy over the validity of petitions gathered to recognize the party, which would allow its candidates access to the ballot.

GOP officials have backed the Green Party’s effort and the National Republican Senatorial Committee filed a brief in support in the federal lawsuit.

National and state Democratic Party organizations, including the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, challenged recognition and after the election board decision state party officials threatened further legal action in state court to prevent recognition for the 2022 cycle.

That effort is now likely moot after Devers, chief judge for the Eastern District, asserted federal jurisdiction in the matter in his Friday decision.

Hoh said he’s looking forward to an active campaign in the last 100 days of the election and will rely on a network of grassroots volunteers to get the word out.

“We plan on continuing to reach out to those most impacted and indeed, left behind, due to the policies of the Democratic and Republicans parties,” Hoh said. “We look forward to showing up and reaching out to those fed up with the two-party system.”

Hoh joins the three-person ballot of Democrat Cheri Beasley, Republican Ted Budd and Libertarian Shannon Bray. Read more