This story originally published online at Carolina Public Press.
North Carolinians are just a few weeks away from seeing “I voted” stickers on the clothes of strangers at the grocery store.
One-stop voting, also commonly known as “early voting,” begins Oct. 20 and will continue through Nov. 5. All signs point to trends showing that the majority of North Carolina voters will take advantage of the two-week opportunity to cast their ballots.
“In recent statewide and federal elections, in-person early voting has been the most popular way to vote for North Carolinians,” said Patrick Gannon, spokesperson for the N.C. State Board of Elections.
How early voting became a powerhouse
In the 2008 and 2012 general elections, roughly 56% of the state’s total ballots came from early voting. That number jumped to 62% in 2016 and 65% in the 2020 general election, according to the state Board of Elections.
But it took different pieces of state legislation proposed over the course of more than 20 years for early voting to become the powerhouse it is now.
Early voting in North Carolina dates to 1977, when the N.C. General Assembly amended absentee voting laws to allow residents already eligible for absentee ballots — people with disabilities or those who would be out of state on Election Day — to go to a county board of elections office, apply for an absentee ballot and cast their vote all in one location.
The next step toward the emergence of early voting, according to the University of North Carolina School of Government, came in 1999. Then, two separate pieces of legislation made any voter eligible for an absentee ballot and authorized counties to establish multiple one-stop voting locations, rather than only using the county board of elections’ office.
The legislature solidified an early voting time frame beginning the third Thursday before and ending the Saturday before Election Day in 2001, and in 2007, lawmakers ruled that a person could both register and vote on the same day at an early voting site.
Since then, as Gannon said, one-stop voting has become the most popular ballot-casting method, with droves of North Carolinians voting at early voting precincts.
“We anticipate one-stop early voting will be the most popular method of voting in the 2022 general election as well,” he said.
Who uses NC’s early voting option?
It’s not just presidential elections that rope in one-stop voters. In the most recent primary election in May, state data shows about 62% of voters utilized early voting.
“This popularity no doubt derives from the convenience that early voting provides,” UNC professor Robert Joyce wrote in the School of Government’s blog in 2010.
“Voters have a choice of many days (including at least one Saturday) to vote and a choice of several locations (not just their one assigned Election Day precinct voting place.)”
A closer look at the state’s recent voter turnout data shows that women took advantage of early voting more than men. During the primary election earlier this year, approximately 54% of one-stop voters were women. About 44% were men, and 2% did not specify a gender.
White voters made up about 72% of those who used North Carolina one-stop precincts from April 28 to May 14, and approximately 23% of the more than 559,000 early voters were Black. Other races and ethnicities constituted the remaining 5%.
Political party affiliation also appears to play a part in early voting turnout. During the 2022 primary, about 40% of one-stop voters were Democrats, 33% were Republicans, and 27% were unaffiliated.
These trends are a likely indicator for how the upcoming election Nov. 8 will play out, as similar gender, racial and political affiliation percentages have been evident in several recent elections.
For example, the November 2018 general election — which had similar congressional, state and local contested races — essentially mirrored the demographic percentages of one-stop voting in May 2022.
The only major difference was with Republican voters. In 2018, they made up only about 30% of all early votes cast. In 2022, that percentage grew to 33%.
Democrats, on the other hand, constituted about 40% of all one-stop ballots in 2022 while in 2018, that percentage was roughly 42%.
How do I vote early?
Any eligible voter in North Carolina can vote early by going to one of the state’s more than 350 one-stop voting sites, which are frequently in libraries, schools and community centers.
For the Nov. 8 general election, early voting will be from Oct. 20 to Nov. 5. One-stop voting locations are typically open from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Some sites are not open on Saturday.
Eligible individuals are able to register to vote and cast a ballot on the same day at a one-stop voting location. Registered voters can modify their current registration at early voting sites—except for changing political affiliation.
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