By Michael Bitzer
North Carolina's first four days of absentee onestop, which is commonly referred to as in-person early voting, have seen record numbers of voters casting ballots. When combined with the exponential amount of absentee by mail ballots returned and accepted, twenty percent of North Carolina's 7.2 million registered voters have already banked their ballots, with two weeks still to go before Election Day.
This post gives several dynamics of the absentee ballots through Sunday, October 18, and then I'll do another blog update on Saturday, October 24, to look at the first full week's worth of data. For daily updates of these numbers, be sure to check out the blog's Twitter account @OldNorthStPol for data threads, or my Twitter account @BowTiePolitics for some analysis of the numbers and trends.
Through Sunday, October 18, the total number of accepted absentee ballots stands at 1,526,968, with 918,224 coming from absentee onestop (in-person) and 608,744 coming from absentee by mail ballots.
The following chart shows the tremendous daily growth in comparison to 2016's daily numbers.
The first day (Day 19 from Election Day) when early in-person voting began is reflective of the exponential numbers of absentee by mail ballots that have been returned and accepted to that point. The next two charts break out the vote methods (mail vs. in-person) of absentee ballots and give the comparison to the daily totals and cumulative totals for 2016 against 2020.
As demonstrated in this daily cumulative totals, the rise over the past four days has been driven by voters going in-person to cast an early ballot.
As of today, 2020's absentee ballots (accepted for both mail and onestop/in-person) for just the first four days is nearly half (49 percent) of all of 2016's absentee ballots (both in-person and by mail).
In breaking out the vote method by party registration, registered Democrats have either a majority or a plurality (44 percent) of the absentee ballots cast, and 46 percent of the total absentee ballots, with registered unaffiliated voters second in the total numbers at 28 percent and registered Republicans with a quarter of the total absentee ballots cast so far.
have generally indicated that Republican voters will utilize in-person voting, while Democrats are likely to utilize both mail-in voting and in-person voting, and these numbers seem to confirm that general trend in North Carolina.
Breaking down the early voters by race-ethnicity, the early vote electorate is remarkable similar to the registered voter pool: White non-Hispanic voters are 65 percent of the early votes, compared to 63 percent of the eligible voter pool, while Black non-Hispanic early voters are a point ahead of their voter registration pool percentage (23 versus 22 percent).
Among party registration, White voters are evenly divided among the parties, whereas in the voter registration pool, registered Republicans tend to dominate (as of this past Saturday, among White non-Hispanic registered voters, 42 percent are registered Republicans compared to 23 percent registered Democratic).
So far, the average age of NC's early voters is 57 years old, compared to 48 years old within the registered voter pool. By generation cohorts, Boomers have a plurality of the ballots cast (44 percent), while voters under the age of 40 (Millennials and Generation Z) are one out of five.
The two youngest generations, however, are 36 percent of the total voter registration pool, so it will be key to watch and see if they 'punch up to their political weight' as we get closer to November 3. The party registration dynamics among the generation cohorts is not surprising; Republican registration is less than a quarter among Millennials and Generation Z.
Within the state's 'regions,' we are seeing a slight advantage to urban central city voters showing up in early votes, to the detriment of rural voters. Central cities are overwhelming Democratic; Clinton in 2016 won them in a two-to-one route, while in the urban suburbs she won by a single point (49-48 percent). The key Republican strongholds are in surrounding suburban counties and rural counties.
But one key to watching these dynamics is again, who is showing up to vote, based on party registration. And in the key battleground of the urban suburbs, so far registered Democrats are a plurality, while in the surrounding suburban counties, which Trump won 60-40 in 2016, partisan registered voters are tied. Again, it is very early
in the early voting process, but something to continue to watch.
One common observation among political commentators is "are the parties cannibalizing their voters by casting ballots early?" Using the voter history data files, I'm able to match up how a voter cast a ballot in 2016 by their vote method, or if they didn't vote in 2016, were they registered in 2016 or after.
Among the 1.5 million early voters so far, nearly two-thirds--65 percent--voted early four years ago, with another 12 percent switching from a 2016 Election Day voter to an early voter this year. Five percent of the early voters were registered in 2016 but didn't vote, and 17 percent registered after 2016's general election.
The two political party registrations are fairly comparable in their vote method distributions, but what is striking is that over a quarter--26 percent--of registered unaffiliated voters who have cast an early ballot didn't vote in 2016.
To break down the party registrations, here are the daily cumulative numbers and percentages by party registration. On the first day of early in-person voting, registered Democrats were nearly half of the absentee ballots (this includes both in-person/onestop and the accumulated by mail ballots to that point).
As a percentage, registered Republicans have seen their overall level increase to a quarter of the early ballots, while registered Democrats are now at 46 percent and registered unaffiliated voters are holding steady at just below 30 percent.
One last chart: as the headline to this post indicates, one out of five North Carolina registered voters have cast a ballot two weeks out from Election Day. But within the party registrations, the stark divide is notable between Democrats and unaffiliated and Republican registered voters.
Yes, Election Day is the big final day, but in this year's electoral contest, it is (as is the standard mantra goes) all about who shows up. And with registered Democrats nearing thirty percent of their eligible voters having cast a ballot, compared to 17 percent so far, it will be important to watch all of these dynamics, but especially "who shows up" ultimately when the polls close on November 3rd.
Because that's how the electoral game is played.
Dr. Michael Bitzer is the Leonard Chair of Political Science and professor of politics and history and chair of the Department of Politics at Catawba College, and tweets at @BowTiePolitics.