Sunday, November 27, 2022

Voter turnout, short lines and stealing signs: 27K ballots cast in first week of early voting

Volunteers outside the Northeast Library early voting site on Thursday. (Port City Daily/Carl Blankenship)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY —  After the first week of early voting, county voters have cast more than 25% of the total as compared to the last midterm election in 2018, which saw a total of 89,403 votes tabulated.

More than 3,400 people have voted every weekday, except for Saturday, Oct. 29, which fell to 1,873. The latest peak came Tuesday with 3,951 showing up to the polls.

READ MORE: Practicality and partisanship: A look at the NHC Board of Elections days before early voting

As of Saturday, Democrats, with votes tallying 9,296, are barely edging out Republicans, 9,209, in an election with big implications for state politics. The question mark in the mix is the unaffiliated voters, who submitted 8,762 ballots so far. There are also 81 Libertarian votes and a single Green Party ballot.

Females are voting more than males with 13,889 votes to 11,916, respectively; 1,544 people did not indicate gender.

The Northeast Library is the most popular early-voting site so far with 33% of ballots cast. The number of ballots, 27,349, by site breaks down like this:

  • Northeast Library: 9,150
  • Senior Center: 8,263
  • Carolina Beach Municipal Complex: 4,688
  • Cape Fear Community College North Campus: 2,764
  • Cape Fear Community College: 2,484

So far white voters make up 84.4% of ballots cast, followed by Black voters at 8.8%.

Rafael Toro, a volunteer with the nonpartisan National Black Leadership Caucus, said the low number of Hispanic voters he has seen at the Northeast site has been discouraging. He is originally from Puerto Rico, served in the Marine Corps and retired as a teacher in New York before moving to Wilmington.

He volunteered all week at the library and did not speak to a single Hispanic voter until Thursday.

“I don’t know where the Hispanic voters are at,” Toro said. “I just joined up with this group, and my goal is by 2024 I should be able to have an answer. I want more volunteers and I want more Hispanic and Asian votes out here.”

The latest figure Port City Daily received on Hispanic voters in New Hanover County is from Thursday, with 188 ballots, while Asian Americans have cast 113 votes so far.

Disappearing act

Campaign volunteers and voters at the Northeast Library told Port City Daily the atmosphere between partisans was congenial and, for the most part, voting went smoothly and without long wait times. But a lever of state power is on the line this November via the N.C. Senate District 7 race.

Senate incumbent Michael Lee is facing off against Democratic challenger Marcia Morgan. New Hanover has a history of flip-flopping the seat.

In 2018 Lee lost to former Wilmington Mayor Harper Peterson with a 0.27% difference; 3.07% of votes went to Libertarian Party candidate Ethan Bickley. Lee took his seat back from Peterson in 2020 with a 1% advantage.

New Hanover County Republican Party Chair Will Knecht said the District 7 race is one the most hotly contested seats in the state. A Republican win would put the party over the line to form a supermajority in the Senate. 

Polls indicate the GOP is likely to make gains in the federal legislature this year. 

If Lee holds onto his state seat and the GOP picks up two more, the party could override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto power.

“They say the supermajority goes through Michael Lee,” Knecht said.

The race between Lee and Morgan has already had its fair share of drama with negative television ads flying between the two and a lawsuit filed by Lee against Morgan after one of her ads claimed he uses his political position for personal gain. 

The latest development is Lee’s campaign signs disappearing en masse. On Thursday he said he filed a report with New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office stating the majority of his signs, over 75%, have been stolen in what appeared to be a “coordinated effort.”

By midweek, they were conspicuously absent from road medians and other public right-of-ways that have been peppered with campaign advertising since Sept. 20.  Lee’s campaign was replacing them Thursday afternoon.

“If you were driving around, say, a week ago, you would have seen we were on the major thoroughfares and really had them out in a lot of different places,” Lee said at the Northeast Library, prepared to stake new signs. “Now I would say a significant portion of them are just gone. Unfortunately, isolated incidents happen all the time. There will be a street where they get pulled up, or even out here they get pulled up, but there seems to be a coordinated effort around town to pull up as many as possible.”

Lee said he has no idea who is taking his signs as early voting rolls on.

There have been a few other incidents of sign-stealing reported to the sheriff’s office in the past week.

New Hanover County school board incumbent Nelson Beaulieu (D) was under investigation after attempting to take signs from the library site last Friday. However, after looking into the case, District Attorney Ben David announced he would not prosecute.

Sheriff Ed McMahon, a Democrat running for reelection after serving the county for 12 years, said many of his signs have been stolen as well, but “it’s the cost of doing business.”

On Oct. 23, 100 signs advertising both Republicans and Democrats were stolen from the library again. NHCSO spokesperson Lt. Jerry Brewer said there is surveillance footage the office is investigating.

The Wilmington Police Department did not respond by press as to whether it received any theft complaints or had an open investigation into signs being taken from the sole downtown early-voting site at CFCC on Front Street.

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