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Josh Bergeron: Election notes with two days to go

Tuesday is the day voters have been excitedly waiting for or dreading, depending on their political persuasions.

It’s hard to make a judgment about how elections will go nationally. But if things go according to plan here, local voters will elect a slate of new officeholders and have successfully completed another democratic election because of the hard work by Board of Elections staff members and the many volunteers who are working polling locations across the county.

There isn’t much that’s been normal about 2020 in Salisbury and Rowan County, but the hard work of elections staff and volunteers ensures local voters are able to exercise their constitutional right.

Including today, there are just two days until Election Day. The following are notes about the state of the election in Salisbury and Rowan County:

• Barring something extraordinary, the number of ballots cast this year should end up being the most ever in Rowan County. As reporter Natalie Anderson reported in today’s Post, 57,226  people have cast a ballot by mail or in person by Saturday, which is a record. That number is also just several thousand votes shy of the record set in 2016, when a total of 64,635 people cast a ballot. Early voting has grown tremendously in popularity and, as a result, numbers so far may just be an indicator of people’s shifting preferences for the method of voting. But it seems impossible that local voters won’t turn out on Election Day by a large enough number (roughly 7,400 people) to set a record.

• The possibility of a historic turnout percentage has longer odds, but it’s not out of the question. The Rowan County Board of Elections lists past turnout percentages on its website dating back to the late 1970s. The best among those records is 1984, when 75.28% of the 50,644 registered voters at the time cast a ballot. There are more people living in Salisbury and Rowan County now as well as more voters. So to top the 1984 number, 15,621 more voters need to cast a ballot. The biggest uncertainty is whether the historic turnout for early voting is an indicator of a shift in preference or a sign of heightened enthusiasm to vote. I think it’s the latter.

• On Saturday, Landis and Granite Quarry were leading the way for most votes cast, according to Vote Tracker, a project of the Civitas Institute, with both just several votes away from one another. Third was the China Grove precinct. Rounding out the top five were the Bradshaw and Rockwell precincts.

• Local activists and Rowan County Board of Elections member George Benson have pushed hard for Sunday voting and were successful. Their efforts were one critical part of ensuring Rowan Countians had 17 consecutive days to cast a ballot at five different sites. On the two Sundays when voting was allowed this year, 2,620 votes were cast.

• Until this year, I’d never seen a political advertisement for a local candidate on any social media platform other than Facebook. That ended when I saw a 30-second video advertisement on Instagram for Al Heggins, who is the city’s mayor pro tem and running for the N.C. House District 76 seat. It was one sign of the fact that Heggins has focused her campaign on digital advertising rather than legacy media.

• While the race for the 76th District is one that pits two well-known local politicians against one another — Heggins and Rep. Harry Warren — a school board race may turn out to be the closest this year. In the Rowan-Salisbury Schools Board of Education East area race, former East Rowan baseball coach Brian Hightower is facing retired educator Kathy McDuffie Sanborn. While Hightower started his campaign earlier, the two have raised a similar amount of money since Sanborn tossed her hat into the ring. The seat is open, too, as incumbent Josh Wagner chose not to seek re-election, but he has been public about his support for Sanborn. Still, Hightower is a popular candidate and Wagner’s support will not seal the race for Sanborn. It’s reasonable to look at the 2016 campaign for the same seat as a potential outcome, when Wagner won a close battle against challenger Michael Julian. The final result was 52% to 47%.

• Finally, a personal election note. My sister, Lauren, is already proving to be a better citizen than I am. She cast an absentee by mail ballot from her college dorm at the age of 18. My first election was in a series of local races in Selma, Alabama. She’ll probably remind me of this fact for years to come.

Josh Bergeron is editor of the Salisbury Post.

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