State asks counties to speed up early voting
By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY - State officials are asking counties to speed up the early voting process, but the local elections director says it's already running smoothly in Rowan County.
Gary Bartlett, executive director of the N.C. State Board of Elections, sent a memo Tuesday to directors of the state's 100 county boards of elections urging them to find ways to ease long lines at one-stop early voting locations.
"The wait time at some sites is as long as two hours," Bartlett wrote. "County Boards should take immediate steps to alleviate these delays and facilitate a more efficient voting process for North Carolina voters."
County Elections Director Nancy Evans said Rowan shouldn't be making any changes, though.
"The longest people are waiting is probably 15 to 20 minutes," Evans said. "They're still busy, but it's not the intense lines that we had at the start. We may have some more toward the end like we normally do, but otherwise, the lines are being taken care of."
More than 600,000 people had voted statewide as of Monday, and the Associated Press reports that the total is likely to exceed 2 million before in-person early voting ends. In his memo, Bartlett said early voting activity is "robust" this year.
State elections officials have asked counties to consider extending one-stop days and times, which must have the unanimous consent of the local board of elections. Other recommendations include moving voting equipment to more popular sites and handing out sample ballots and registration forms while voters are in line.
The chairman of the county elections board can call a meeting if something needs to be done, Evans said, but she says it's not likely.
"Since we're not having those issues, I know our board probably wouldn't change anything at this point," she said.
More than 8,000 people had voted in Rowan County as of 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, Evans said. North Carolina's early voting period started Oct. 18 and ends Nov. 3.
According to Michael Bitzer, political analyst and professor at Catawba College, about 120,000 more votes were cast statewide in the first four days of early voting than in the same time period in 2008.
"On the first day of early voting, more than 49,000 more votes were cast this year than in 2008, and the three subsequent days also saw more votes cast than on the same days four years ago: by 40,000, 24,000, and 8,600 respectively," Bitzer wrote Monday on his blog, nc-politics.blogspot.com. "In looking deeper into these ballots cast, though, we can also see some partisan patterns emerging that could give an indication that the Democratic ground-game is back in full operation this year."
He said registered Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters were all above their 2008 totals from the same time four years ago, with Democrats gaining the most ground.
One day later, the picture began to change. On the first Monday of early voting this year, more Republicans and unaffiliated voters came out the polls than in 2008.
"But for registered Democrats casting ballots, they came up about 5,000 short of the number they saw in 2008's early voting," Bitzer wrote Tuesday.
He also cautioned that not everyone will vote for their party's candidates, especially conservative Democrats in North Carolina.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.