Early voting by the numbers

Published 9:15 am Monday, August 29, 2016

Attempts to devise plans to allow for Early Voting and follow updated guidelines from the state in the wake of a federal court ruling have left local Elections officials in a tizzy.

The number of Early Voting (One-Stop) opportunities have risen dramatically between what was allowed during the March Primary this year and the pending General Election on Nov. 8. Those changes came a month ago after the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that the majority of North Carolina’s Voter ID law, approved in 2013 and modified in 2015, is unconstitutional.

In March, voters across the state were given 10 days prior to the Primary Election to cast a ballot by the One-Stop method. Those voters also had to present an acceptable identification prior to being allowed in the voting booth, and they could not register and vote on the same day.

Now, with the federal court’s decision, each county’s Board of Elections can offer up to 17 days of Early Voting (counting weekends over a time period on and after Oct. 20). The judicial ruling also does away with the previously mandated identification presentation, and eligible citizens can now register and vote on the same day.

As far as determining how many days to offer Early Voting, elections officials in each county were advised to use available data from the last presidential election in 2012. Past data shows a higher turnout of voters during presidential elections.

The latter fact was apparent across the Roanoke-Chowan area in 2012.

Hertford County recorded the highest turnout that year where 11,023 of its 15,324 registered voters (71.93%) cast ballots either by the One-Stop method or on election day.

Northampton County experienced a 69.9 percent turnout (10,857 of its 15,533 voters went to the polls).

Bertie County’s turnout in 2012 was 69.31 percent where 10,193 of its 14,707 registered voters participated in that election.

The turnout in Gates County was 64.36 percent (5,482 of 8,518 registered voters cast ballots).

The local Boards of Elections also had available the breakdown of the “numbers within the numbers.” For example, in all but one R-C area county, the number of voters casting One-Stop ballots for the 2012 General Election exceeded the number who waited to vote on election day.

In Bertie County, 4,420 presidential ballots were cast by the One-Stop method in 2012 compared to 3,893 voters turning out on election day. As it was in all R-C area counties in 2012, the remaining ballots were either cast as absentee or provisional.

One-Stop voting for Hertford County in 2012 was recorded at 6,166 ballots. Meanwhile, 4,469 waited until election day to vote.

Northampton County’s One-Stop voting numbers in 2012 were 5,815 compared to 4,617 on election day.

Only Gates County saw more registered voters casting a ballot on election day in 2012 (3,084) than by the One-Stop method (2,104).

The breakdown in One-Stop numbers for 2012 was also taken into consideration by R-C area Boards of Elections when they met to develop a plan for the 2016 General Election.

In Bertie County, the two busiest One-Stop days leading up to the 2012 General Election were the first day and the next to last day that method was offered (680 and 629 ballots were cast respectively on those days; representing nearly 30 percent of all One-Stop votes recorded over that 13-day period).

Bertie operated two One-Stop locations for the 2012 General Election. Combined they were open for 218.5 hours.

Hertford County’s two busiest One-Stop days in 2012 were, respectively, the next to last (766 votes cast) and the fourth day of the 13-day cycle (727 votes). The ballots cast on those two days represented 24 percent of the One-Stop votes for that election, where the county had three early voting sites opened for a combined 243.5 hours.

Like Bertie, Northampton County voters found the first and next to last One-Stop days leading up to the 2012 General Election as the most popular time to visit those sites, casting 660 and 551 ballots respectively. That accounted for 21 percent of the total One-Stop ballots in that election cycle, one where Northampton County had three sites opened for a total of 318 hours.

The popularity of Gates County’s single One-Stop site in 2012 was mild until the final three days. There, 189, 212 and 190 ballots were cast, representing 28 percent of all One-Stop votes tallied during early voting.

Gates County’s lone One-Stop site operated for 119 hours that year.

As far as the ages of those using the One-Stop sites, records from 2012 show that the highest percentage of votes cast by that method were by those ages 51-and-over. Those percentages were in the 55%-plus range for Bertie, Hertford and Northampton, and 40%-plus in Gates.

The data from the 2012 General Election, compiled by the North Carolina Board of Elections office in Raleigh, also revealed that black Democrats turned out in the highest numbers at One-Stop sites across the Roanoke-Chowan area.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

email author More by Cal