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.
“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