North Carolina’s early voting kicked off Thursday, where election staff said the turnout was higher than expected.
On Friday, Elections Director Spinosa Clements of the Northampton County Board of Elections, said Thursday was a busy day. Without a full count of Thursday’s ballots cast yet, Clements said she is confident that the number is nearly a thousand across the four one-stop voting centers.
“If we didn’t hit a thousand yesterday, we got close to it because, based on my math of what the precincts ended with last night — I did a quick add, and it was over 900,” she said. “But I didn’t have a calculator beside me when I was doing it.”
Election Communications Specialist Noah Grant, with the NC State Board of Elections said on Friday, Northampton County received a total of 981 ballots cast on the first day of early voting on Thursday.
According to the state Board of Elections website, the state has 7,292,471 registered voters, 362,328 One-Stop Early Voting ballots cast, 1,350,599 absentee ballots requested and 556,367 absentee ballots were cast as of 5 a.m. on Friday.
According to an NCSBOE press release on Thursday, nearly 230,000 ballots were cast across the state during the start of the early voting process, which surpassed the nearly 166,000 total for the first day of early voting in 2016 statewide.
One voting site, Cool Spring Community Center in Northampton County, ran out of ballots for a short period, Clements said.
“I figured starting off with 300 ballots at each site would be enough, but it wasn’t — it was nowhere near,” she said. “I’ll put it to you this way, during the primary, it was in the 2,700 range. If you think about it, we did at least half or almost half of what we did in March in one day.”
Over in Halifax County, Board of Elections Director Kristin Scott said the early voting turnout went well on Thursday. Scott said she pulled the voter check-in report and saw 2,373 people voted on Thursday, compared to 816, who voted four years ago on the first day of early voting.
“In Halifax County, my Roanoke Rapids and Halifax sites saw the most voters,” she said. “They will continue to be my busiest sites throughout the early voting period.”
Grant said the number of ballots cast on Thursday across the state might have set a record compared to the first day of early voting in 2016.
“Compared to 2016, the turnout is high,” he said. “Of course, voter turnout is higher during presidential election years, and 2020 is no different. This is one of, if not the most publicized elections of our lifetime, and all eyes are on the election. Voters are eager to cast a ballot, whether by mail or in person.”
With this election, Grant said the increased voter turnout, along with social distancing precautions, have led to longer lines.
“It’s not unusual for the first couple and last couple days of the early voting period to be busier than others, particularly in a presidential election year,” he said. “Lines are a sign of high turnout, which is a great thing.”
Back on the Northampton side, Clements is asking precinct officials and voters to be more patient while social distancing and sanitation are conducted.
“They are sanitizing in between each voter, and they’re not reusing pens,” she said. “Each voter gets their own pen. For voters who are voting curbside, they get their own individual privacy sleeves, and once a voter uses them, we discard them. So, be patient because we are practicing the six-foot social distancing, which makes it look like there is a long line when, in reality, the lines are not as long as it appears.”
Additionally, Clements addressed a frequent question from voters who requested absentee ballots and decided to cast their votes in person.
“Whether it be during one-stop or on election day, as long as they have not returned a voted ballot to our office they are able to do so,” she said. “I know that’s a question that we get quite often.”
Over in Halifax County, Scott said voters are encouraged to come out during the early-voting period and are encouraged to wear masks when entering the sites but are not mandated.
“Voters should expect to wait longer in lines due to social distancing, understanding that some voters may not practice social distancing,” she said. “Precinct officials are cleaning voting booths once a voter leaves. Anytime a voter has a question or concern, they should go to one of the check-in stations and ask to speak with the person in charge of that site. Again, the Roanoke Rapids and Halifax sites will have longer lines, but voters are always encouraged to go to one of the other two sites to cast their vote.”
According to an NCSBOE press release on Thursday, the board corrected a false narrative circulating social media posts suggesting that election workers writing on a voters ballot renders it invalid. Instead, election workers write a special number assigned to each absentee and one-stop ballot as required by law. This allows the ballot to be retrieved based on a voter challenge or in the event of a successful election protest.
Ballots on Election Day are not retrievable and will not have a writing mark unless it is a provisional ballot that is marked with a “P,” according to the press release. Additionally, some counties will have the voter’s precinct written on the ballot so that absentee and one-stop voting ballots can be sorted into proper precincts after the election for reporting and data purposes, as required by law.
Scott said Halifax County is one of the counties that will have to write the voters precinct along with the voters identifying numbers during early voting.
“The reason we are required to write the precinct name is because we do not order ballots by precinct,” she said. “If for any reason, a precinct official writes an identifying number on a ballot on Election Day, the voter should request to have a new ballot because those ballots are not retrievable. If that occurs, it is because a precinct official at that location worked during the early voting period, and it became a habit.”
Scott said voters should not leave if a precinct begins experiencing technical difficulties while trying to check in to vote.
“If you cannot wait and have to leave, please make sure that you come back to vote,” she said.
To prevent misinformation, Grant encourages voters to use trusted sources of information such as the state or county boards of elections.
“This will help cut down on the amount of misinformation surrounding elections,” he said.
For accurate election information, Grant said voters can visit NCSBE.gov.
“Our website answers many FAQs, and has press releases that often serve to combat these myths or misinformation,” he said. “One thing to note is that voters who requested a ballot by mail may still vote in person, as long as they did not complete and return the ballot and envelope. If they choose to vote in person, they may discard the mail-in ballot.”
For more information on one-stop voting in Northampton County, call the Board of Elections at 252-534-5681; and for Halifax County, call 252-583-4391.
Halifax County one-stop voting sites and times are available at bit.ly/3lY71j5.
Northampton County, one-stop voting sites and times are available at bit.ly/3lUuDoO.
One-stop voting runs until Oct. 31.