NEW HANOVER COUNTY — The 2020 general election season, pandemic and all, is already turning out to be a historic one.
North Carolinians broke the state’s previous in-person, single-day early-voting record Thursday, casting 333,000 ballots, a nearly 10% uptick from the 2016 general election. Compared to the first day of early voting in 2016, twice as many voters showed up to the polls.
Turnout among registered voters in New Hanover and Brunswick counties was 14% before the polls opened Friday morning, with a combined 25,025 and 16,396 ballots cast, respectively. In Pender County, turnout was a bit lower, with 10% of registered voters already casting their ballots (at 4,564 ballots cast in total). Statewide, turnout was highest in Chatham (19.8%) and Orange County (18.7%).
Long lines were reported statewide and locally, with some Leland residents waiting three hours to cast a ballot. Though turnout was up, lines may have appeared long in part due to social distancing.
For the most part, the first day of early voting wrapped up without any major hitches. By Friday in Wilmington, poll workers reported lines and turnout had calmed down, taking no more than 30 minutes in most locations.
In-person turnout this week follows record-breaking absentee ballot requests across the state, too. With pandemic concern as a backdrop, North Carolinians submitted 1.1 million absentee requests statewide as of Sept. 30, a tenfold increase compared to the same time in 2016. This summer the NC State Board of Elections told county elections offices to prepare for a 40% increase in absentee voting — a prediction that has certainly been shattered this season already.
Nine times as many absentee ballots (556,000) have been counted statewide compared to the same time in 2016 (60,000).
Registered Democrats cast a majority (49%) of combined ballots so far, followed by unafilliated voters (29%), and registered Republicans (21%).
By midday Friday, N.C. voters cast more than one million ballots, according to the state board of elections. The number of total early voting hours is up 80% due to a pandemic-related state directive announced in late July that mandated local county elections offices extend available polling hours and locations in accordance with local populations.
New Hanover County Board of Elections added three new polling sites to follow the order; Brunswick County added one in Leland, while Pender County had no need to add a new location. All locations increased available early voting hours.
Poll workers cannot deny voters the right to cast a ballot if they aren’t wearing a mask, per the state order. The early voting period, which allows same-day registration, will remain open through Halloween.
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