Breaking down the ‘astronomical’ number of mail-in ballot requests in NC

Your Local Election HQ

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — More than one out of every six requests for a mail-in ballot in North Carolina has come from Wake County.

State Board of Elections data show the total number of vote-by-mail requests has nearly doubled in the past two weeks, with 618,842 applications received Thursday, one day before the state will begin mailing those ballots to those who have asked for them.

State records show 313,224 requests were received on Aug. 19, and the current total is nearly 17 times the amount of requests in the last presidential election in 2016 when 37,576 people had requested mail-in ballots at this time that year.

“The trend has certainly been astronomical,” said political science professor Michael Bitzer of Catawba College. “The numbers just continue to grow at exponential rates.”

Of the current total, 108,046 — or 17 percent — are from Wake County, the only county in the state with more than 100,000 requests. 

Durham County has the third-highest total of requests with 34,220 — and 62 percent of those requests are from registered Democrats — with Mecklenburg County (87,749) ranking second.

The current total represents roughly 9 percent of the total of 7 million registered voters in the state and state election officials expect that to rise to as much as 30 percent.

But they’re confident they can handle so many ballots.

“This isn’t the first time we’ve done absentee by-mail,” said Karen Brinson Bell, the state board of elections chair. “It’s just the first time we’ve done it at this volume.”

The data show 53 percent of requests come from registered Democrats with 31 percent coming from unaffiliated voters and only 16 percent from registered Republicans. 

There were more Democrats than Republicans seeking mail-in ballots in every county but three — Avery, Mitchell and Yadkin.

State election data show the percentages are a bit more even when it comes to the total number of registered voters in the state, with 35 percent Democrats, 33 percent unaffiliated, and 30 percent Republicans.

The percentages of total mail-in voters rises as the age brackets increase, with 43 percent of requests coming from voters older than 65 and another 36 percent from those between the ages of 41 and 65. At the other end, just 6 percent are between 18 and 25 while 14 percent are between 26 and 40.

“Among age, it is skewing older, and that’s to be expected,” Bitzer said. “It tends to draw the oldest voters to that method.”

What surprised him is the rising number of Black voters looking to vote by mail.

While nearly 69 percent of requests came from white voters, almost 19 percent are Black. 

“Typically, we tend to see a much more white voter bloc utilizing this,” Bitzer said. “Right now, we are almost at parity in terms of the absentee by-mail ballots and the overall racial composition of eligible voters. … African-American voters have skyrocketed in terms of their percentage of requests for absentee by-mail ballots. So it’s a real interesting dynamic that’s playing out that is kind of reflective of the 7 million registered voters.”

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