RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – More people are turning out to cast their ballots in the first few days of the early voting period for this year’s primary election compared to four years ago, but experts cautioned against expecting a major increase in turnout once all the votes are in.
According to data from the NC State Board of Elections, nearly 75,000 people have voted compared to about 40,000 at the same point in the 2018 primary.
Dr. Michael Bitzer, an expert on state politics at Catawba College, pointed out the 2018 primary was unusual given that there were no major statewide races on the ballot such as the U.S. Senate race that’s drawing significant interest this year.
“We’re seeing numbers that are exceeding where we were this time four years ago. So, I would say this is kind of the new norm in comparison to four years ago which was the outlier,” he said. “What we have seen is a trend up in early voting.”
With Republican Sen. Richard Burr’s retirement, North Carolina is expected to have one of the most competitive Senate races in the country.
On the Democratic side, the presumptive nominee is former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley. Her main rivals all dropped out last year and endorsed her.
However, the Republican side still has a competitive primary, which is generating significant interest.
State law allows unaffiliated voters to choose in which party’s primary they’d like to vote. About 18,000 unaffiliated people have already voted, and they’ve chosen the Republican ballot by a margin of nearly 2-1, according to data from the NC State Board of Elections.
“Unaffiliateds see the contest particularly at the top of the ballot for U.S. Senate and that’s where they’re trending,” said Bitzer. “Typically, unaffiliateds tend to go where the biggest contest is in both presidential and mid-term years.”
The state also has several competitive primaries for various seats in the U.S. House of Representatives following the recent redistricting cycle and the decisions by some current House members not to seek re-election.
Bitzer found the districts that have seen the highest turnout so far include: the 1st district in the eastern part of the state, where U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D) is retiring; the 4th district in the Triangle, where U.S. Rep. David Price (D) is also retiring and the 11th district in the western part of the state, where U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R) is facing seven primary challengers within his party.
On average, turnout in midterm primaries is about 15 percent. Bitzer says if it were to climb to 20 percent this year that would be “really good.”
“I think that we’re reverting back to the traditional norm that is a mid-term election year,” he said.