RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — State election officials are reporting a decrease in ballots cast so far during early voting compared to the same point in the last midterm election, but one election expert still expects “healthy” turnout once the final votes are counted. 

Following the first few days of in-person early voting, the North Carolina State Board of Elections said Monday that about 380,769 ballots have been cast either in person or by mail. That’s down from the same point in 2018 when 440,977 ballots had been cast.  

“The numbers are quite healthy but nothing like what we saw in terms of comparison to where we were in 2018,” said Dr. Michael Bitzer, an expert on politics at Catawba College.  

Of ballots that have been cast so far, about 41 percent have come from registered Democrats, while 30 percent have come from unaffiliated voters and 29 percent from registered Republicans, according to NCSBE data. Additionally, women account for 51 percent of votes while 45 percent have been cast by men and 4 percent of votes are undesignated as far as gender.  

“Right now, it looks like a very common midterm turnout year so far,” said Dr. Bitzer. “We’re seeing a slight dip in terms of the percentage of registered Democrats in the early voting ballots that have been submitted so far. It’s down about two percentage points. Unaffiliates and Republicans are slightly up.” 

Bitzer said he still thinks overall turnout will exceed 50 percent, which is above average for a midterm election in North Carolina. During the 2018 “blue wave” election when there was no U.S. Senate race on the ballot, turnout was just shy of 53 percent. In 2014, when there was a competitive Senate race, turnout was lower at 44 percent. 

A key difference between this year and 2018 is the significant rise in mail-in voting. As of Monday, more than 215,000 people have requested mail-in ballots. At the same point in 2018, about 101,000 voters had submitted those requests.  

Of the 215,984 voters who’ve requested to vote by mail this year, 57,153 ballots have been returned and accepted so far. 

“A lot of people who utilized absentee-by-mail in 2020 are doing so again this year. So, that tells me that voters tend to be creatures of habit,” said Bitzer. “The return rate has not been as successful as what we’ve typically seen. So, I think there is this glut of absentee-by-mail ballots out there. Those will likely start to come in very soon over the next week, week-and-a-half.” 

Dr. Bitzer also noted that voters have skewed older so far, adding that if there’s going to be a surge in younger voters participating, “it should be happening this week into next week if they are indeed going to show up to vote.” 

The in-person early voting period continues through Nov. 5. Election Day is on Nov. 8. To see where the early voting sites are in your county and when they’re open, click here.