Early Voting in NC: First Impressions

Early voting in North Carolina began on Thursday (October 23rd), and continues until Saturday, November 1st. One of this year’s most competitive Senate elections, between Senator Kay Hagan (D) and her opponent Thom Tillis, may come down to the state’s early returns (early voting in NC being incredibly popular). On top of that, the legality of major (and controversial) new election legislation in North Carolina–legislation that, among other changes, cut the first week off of early voting–may come down to a decision by the Supreme Court. Both reasons make knowing how the early returns look this election especially important.

After only two days of early voting, there isn’t much to say about the results. I want to show two quick graphs, however, that may augur next week’s results. The first graph shows the proportion of democrats, republicans, and unaffiliated voters that have already returned their ballots.


ncabs_proportion_inperson_byparty copy

What does it mean that 5% of democrats, 4% of republicans, and 3% of unaffiliated voters have already returned their ballots? It does seem like a large proportion of the registered party populations–especially since early voting rates in NC are greater at the tail end of the early voting period than in the beginning. Should this suggest high turnout?

I think it might. To explain why, figure 2 presents the results from figure 1  along with the same data from 2010. First, note that with twelve days to go until the election in 2010, higher proportions of democrats and republicans had already returned their ballots in NC. This should be no surprise, however, since voters in 2010 had an extra week to turn in their early ballots by this time. Over eight days, roughly 6% of democrats and republicans returned their ballots. This number surged up in the final week, with over 15% of democrats and republicans voting early.

This year, after only two days of early voting, the percent of democrats, republicans, and unaffiliated voters that have returned their ballots already almost matches the results from 2010. This initial surge almost (though not entirely) negates the effect of the new election legislation taking away the first week of early voting. Importantly, it also represents the portion of the early voting period that (historically) has seen lower levels of turnout.


nc_inperson_2014_2010 copy

Given these results, will early voting over the final week in NC quickly surge above the 2010 results? In an earlier post, I predicted that, given past early voting results in midterm election, we should expect around 1.26 million early ballots returned in NC. But, if the rate of returns continues to surpass expectations, then early turnout may end up much higher.

We’ll have to wait and see. EVIC will try to keep you informed.