Rowan County sets record for early voting; Election Day Tuesday

Published 12:10 am Sunday, November 6, 2016

By Josh Bergeron

SALISBURY — With conflicting emotions about the 2016 election, crowds of people on Saturday piled into the polls and added to a record turnout for early voting in Rowan County.

From start to finish on Saturday — the last for early voting — a line that occasionally exceeded 200 people stretched around the Rowan County Board of Elections, the only voting site open. Included in the line were young, old and first-time voters with mixed opinions about this year’s presidential race.

Once voting ceased on Saturday, 38,233 people had cast ballots during the entire 17-day early voting period, according to statistics provided by the Rowan County Board of Elections. Without considering any mail-in, absentee ballots or same-day registrations that occurred during the early voting period, turnout so far for the Nov. 8 election is 41 percent. It’s a record for Rowan County.

Previously, the record was 33,183 ballots cast during early voting in the 2008 presidential race. In 2012, 32,566 people cast ballots during early voting for the presidential election. In both instances, the turnout percentage ranks lower than early voting in 2016.

Totals across North Carolina in 2016 also topped prior years. A 3 p.m. on Saturday, the NC Board of Elections reported that more than 3 million people had voted, which is more than early voting turnout in 2012. At the time the announcement came, voters were still standing in line to cast ballots at various sites across the state, meaning the total could increase.

A partisan breakdown of ballots cast during early voting wasn’t available on Saturday afternoon. The latest available numbers, however, show a significant Republican advantage during Rowan County early voting in 2016.

Rowan Elections Director Nancy Evans said it’s unclear what the record turnout numbers mean for the overall election on Nov. 8. Evans said people may have chosen early voting because it’s more convenient than election day. However, a number of people who hadn’t voted in years have cast ballots during early voting, she said.

“Presidential races seem to bring those sorts of people out — those that haven’t voted in a long time or are first-time voters,” she said.

All ages, all opinions

The term “first-time voter” doesn’t necessarily mean a young voter.

Voters of all ages were sprinkled throughout Saturday’s crowd.

Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump was the reason Danny Caldwell, 58, voted for the first time in his life on Saturday. His wife Carolyn Caldwell has been a poll worker in past years. She’s one this year too, and joked that years of her talking about elections motivated her husband to vote. Danny Caldwell said it was Trump’s status as an outsider.

“The country needs a change,” he said. “Everything needs to change, to tell you the truth. I think Trump has the ability to make those changes instead of just talking about it and that’s what we need.”

Voters who spoke the the Salisbury Post and said they were voting for Clinton said they were excited about casting their ballot and also mentioned the fact that she would be the first female president in history. Some mentioned policy positions. Juwan Bledsoe, a first-time voter, is currently in a program for people with disabilities. Bledsoe said Trump’s comments about people with disabilities helped make up his mind.

Others weren’t so confident in their choice. Bethany Graves, a student at Belmont Abbey University, described her feelings about the presidential race as “confusing and agonizing.”

“Those sound kind of dramatic,” Graves said. “Maybe I’d just say it’s been confusing, I guess. Agonizing is a little bit negative, but the race actually has been negative.”

Graves said she wasn’t excited about voting in the presidential race. Instead, she said the race was about picking the better of two bad candidates. However, she didn’t choose between Trump or Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. She wrote in the name of independent candidate Evan McMullin.

“I went into vote, and just decided that I didn’t want to play a part in either side,” she said. “I didn’t want to go the next four years and see what one of them did and say ‘oh, yeah, I voted for that person.'”

Graves wasn’t the only person discouraged about the tenor of this year’s race. Most voters who spoke to the Post said they weren’t excited about voting in the 2016 election.

Marty Hurd and Ashley Paccione, Trump supporters, described this year’s presidential race with the words “clown show” and “comical.”

“Honestly, there’s no good choice,” Hurd said. “It’s freaking scary on both sides … to me, I had to look past these two candidates to things like Supreme Court justices. At this point, you just hope for the best.”

Including Trump, Hurd said politicians are only worried about “filling their own pockets.”

Paccione joked that the 2016 presidential race would be “an interesting history lesson for our children.”

Decision day

The most important chapter in that history lesson will be written on Nov. 8, election day. Polls open at 6:30 a.m. and close at 7:30 p.m.

In order to make history for overall turnout, Rowan County will have to bring out percentages of voters not seen in decades. In the 1984 presidential election, for example, 75 percent of Rowan County voters cast ballots.

To top the 2008 and 2012 presidential election, Rowan County only needs to turn out 68.62 percent of registered voters.

Regardless of turnout, it’s expected that Rowan County will pick Trump, according to historical trends, political observers and voter registration.

Since at least 2000, a majority of Rowan County voters have picked the Republican candidate in every election. In presidential election years since 2000, Rowan County has also picked Republicans for gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races. A majority of registered voters in Rowan County are registered Republicans.

For questions related to voting, contact the Rowan County Board of elections at 704-216-8140.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.