Republicans lead in mail-in absentee ballots

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 19, 2014

With just over a month left to request a mail-in ballot, it seems most who are choosing to vote absentee in Rowan County are Republicans.
As of Wednesday afternoon, 110 Rowan County voters requested absentee ballots. Most are being mailed to sites in North Carolina, but Rowan County ballots have also made their way to Georgia, Washington D.C., Florida, California and even Sweden. Republicans are leading the way with a small plurality of ballots requested, Democrats are in a close second and unaffiliated voters are third in absentee ballots requested.
Catawba College politics professor and Provost Dr. Michael Bitzer said its unclear how absentee ballots could affect county elections, specifically the board of county commissioners because of the unusual field of candidates. Three Republicans, two democrats and three unaffiliated candidates are running for county commissioner.
“With the inclusion of independent candidates, I’m really at a loss as to how to judge that,” Bitzer said. “We are just dealing with something that is so new in this county. Some of the independent candidates have had political affiliations in the past, which kind of throws everything up in the air.”
Voters have until Oct. 28 to request ballots.
With so much time left, Laura Russell, an elections specialist at the Rowan County Board of Elections, said total ballots requested would likely fall between the 3,126 mail-in ballots during 2012’s presidential election and the 574 ballots requested during 2013’s municipal elections.
As of Wednesday, only 11 voters had already returned mail-in ballots, Russell said.
Though numbers are relatively small, Rowan County Democratic Party Chairman Geoffrey Hoy said he wouldn’t expect his party to have a majority of mail-in ballots, as Democrats are traditionally known for early voting.
“There are so many candidates (for county commissioner), most of whom would probably be in the moderate category,” Hoy said. “How that’s going to sort itself out is anybody’s guess.”
Across North Carolina, mail-in ballots are more commonly being requested by Democrats. Unaffiliated voters were third, significantly behind Republican ballots.
Unlike Rowan County, Bitzer said mail-in ballots could have a significant effect on election outcome if the U.S. Senate race between incumbent Kay Hagan and N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis is close. Specifically, Bitzer said, 50,000 to 60,000 total mail-in ballots could have a large effect. With that number, mail-in ballots would equal 1 to 2 percent of total votes cast.
He said that absentee ballots statewide have recently become more evenly divided between Republican and Democratic voters.
“2008 was a watershed for early voting; Barack Obama won early votes but lost on election day, so they used the rules of the game to their advantage,” Bitzer said. “Republicans didn’t see it coming until it was too late. They learned their lesson in 2010 and 2012 and now both sides recognize the importance.”

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246