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Stanly seeing record number of early voting

With just a few days until Tuesday’s Election Day, Stanly County is witnessing a record number of people going to the polls and casting mail-in ballots, with 24,207 people having already cast ballots as of Friday morning. The total accounts for almost 57 percent of all the registered voters — more than 42,000 — in the county.

Of that number, more than 21,000 have stood in line to early vote, while more than 3,100 have cast mail-in ballots.

By comparison, in 2016, only 20,078 people voted during the early voting period and by mail.

“I honestly did not know what to expect this year, but I am pleasantly surprised that we have had as large as a turnout as we did,” said Kimberly Blackwelder, board of elections director.

She noted that since her time as head of the board of elections, each successive election has brought about a larger number of people casting early ballots, “which is always a good thing for us to see it growing.”

Many other officials in the county are also pleased with the historic voter turnout thus far.

“I see the excitement of this race really topping out in our party and I’m very excited about that,” said Mark Lowder, Stanly County Republican Party chairman. “Our Republican base is just chomping at the bit to get to the polls to vote.”

In addition to seeing lines of people waiting to early vote, Lowder said he’s also seen long lines of cars waiting to vote curbside. 

Lowder thinks the possibility is quite high that more people in Stanly will come out to vote in this election than any in history, which he says is a great barometer for a healthy and functioning democracy.

Record turnout by the numbers 

Stanly is not alone though in seeing historic voter turnout during the early voting period. More than 82 million Americans have already cast their ballots, which is more than half of the overall vote total in the 2016 general election, according to a Friday morning tally by the U.S. Elections Project, which is closely monitoring early voting across the country.

In North Carolina, more than 4 million votes have been cast, roughly 3 million of which have been during the early voting period. That number accounts for almost 56 percent of the total electorate in the state and makes up 81 percent of the total votes counted four years ago, which was 4,769,640. There are more than 7.3 million registered voters in North Carolina.

Statewide, Democrats have cast more than 1.5 million ballots (around 38 percent of the total), compared with Republicans, who have cast almost 1.3 million votes (around 32 percent). Across gender lines, females in the state have accounted for almost 52 percent of all votes cast, while across racial lines, white people have accounted for 67 percent of the vote, followed by Blacks with 20 percent.

In Stanly, Republicans have cast more than 12,500 votes while Democrats and unaffiliated voters have cast roughly 5,300 and 6,300, respectively. More than 50 percent of all registered Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters have already voted.

Even with increased turnout, if the election in Stanly is anything like those in the past, it will likely be dominated by voters supporting Republican candidates. In the last presidential election in 2016, Republicans at all levels of government easily won in Stanly County, often with at least 70 percent of the vote.

Though Democrats in Stanly account for only 23 percent of the electorate, Kevin Taylor, chairman of the Democratic Party in Stanly, is also optimistic about the election. In addition to the voters in his party, he anticipates a significant proportion of unaffiliated voters in the county, which account for 30 percent of the electorate, will likely be voting for a change in the presidency.

While he acknowledged it was a “hard blow for the Democrats” when Stanly and the state went red in 2016 — President Trump won the county with 73 percent of the vote — he said for the past four years, the party has been regrouping and reconnecting with its base group of supporters.

One of Taylor’s main goals is getting new voters involved and engaged in the democratic process. He’s already talked with several young people who he says are excited to cast their ballots for the first time.

Though there is no county- or state-specific data showing how many young people have cast ballots, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE), a non-partisan research organization tracking young-voter data, 331,900 young people ages 18-29 in North Carolina have already voted this year. Only Texas and Florida have had more young people cast ballots so far.

In 2016, 88,600 young voters had cast ballots at the same point in the election, CIRCLE’s data show.

“We want to connect with those people (first-time young voters) and keep that political engagement ongoing because if we’re not engaged someone (else) is going decide our future,” Taylor said.

Austin Coats is one of those young voters. The 26-year-old cast his vote for Joe Biden at the Norwood Community Building because he didn’t trust the reliability of voting by mail.

“There was a lot at stake in 2016, but there’s even more at stake now,” Coats said about the election. “I voted for my friends and family that are in marginalized groups and need to be protected.”

‘Most important election in our lifetime’

Republican incumbent Wayne Sasser, who is running unopposed for House District 67, which encompasses most of Stanly and part of Cabarrus, said Stanly County will very likely surpass the 74 percent of registered voters who cast ballots in 2016.

Bolstered by the incredible number of people who have already gone to the polls, Sasser estimates that turnout this year could be as high as 80 percent.

Sasser, who lives in Albemarle, believes this presidential election is different than previous ones because people seem to have such animated feelings toward the presidential candidates, which is energizing and driving them to the polls.

“I’ve never seen an election where the two candidates were polar opposites of each other. There’s no middle of the road,” Sasser said. 

He has talked with several people who agree the statewide races will be very close, with the state House likely to remain in Republican control while the state Senate will likely be more of a toss-up.

“I don’t think it will be a slam dunk for either side,” he said.

Sasser has spoken with people who have cast ballots for the first time, which he finds encouraging. 

“If you cannot find a reason to do your patriotic duty and go vote in this election then honestly you don’t care,” Sasser said.

With such a record number of people already casting their ballots — presumably because it’s a presidential election year, which historically always attracts more voters — candidates all down the ballot, even the local ones, may benefit from the prolific turnout.

Albemarle Mayor Pro-Tem Martha Sue Hall, who is seeking a fifth term on the city council, says this is the first time she’s run for city council during a federal election year.

“This is a huge ballot because it’s got (candidates) from the White House (all the way) to City Hall on it,” she said.

Hall, who has been greeting voters outside the Stanly County Commons during early voting, said the record turnout is “reassuring” to her and is a statement that democracy is very much alive and working.

She has enjoyed seeing parents taking their kids with them to the polls.

“The kids are as excited about being out there as the parents are,” she said, noting that it’s a good introduction to the voting process for many young kids who will be of voting age in a few years.

Hall is running against four other candidates for two seats: Incumbent Dr. Chris Bramlett and challengers Benton Dry, Matt Tracy and Tim “TJ” Morgan.

State Rep. Scott Brewer, a Democrat who is seeking reelection for North Carolina’s 66th District, made no bones about the importance of the election and why so many people are coming out to vote.

“People understand that their healthcare, their jobs, and the future of our country is on the ballot,” he said. “This is the most important election in our lifetime, and I think that’s why we’re seeing such a high turnout.”

Brewer is running against Republican Ben Moss.

The last day to cast ballots during the early voting period is Oct. 31.

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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