N.C. early vote above 2010, but interest still muted

The Associated Press

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SANFORD — North Carolina’s early-voting period wrapped up Saturday as candidates and their volunteers tried to persuade citizens at the polls and then refocused efforts to get out voters for Tuesday’s important primary day.

More people cast primary ballots in North Carolina during the 10-day voting period compared with the last midterm primary, according to the State Board of Elections. Nearly 228,000 people voted in person through Friday, and tens of thousands more were expected Saturday.

There were 17 early voting days in 2010. Legislators reduced the number of days last year while requiring the same number of hours in each county compared with 2010. While exceptions were granted for some counties, the total number of hours statewide fell by 1.3 percent, the board calculated.

The level of interest depended on the region. While some voters in urban counties waited in lines, Lee County’s two voting sites were fairly quiet as more than 200 voters filed in over five hours with little or no waiting. Still, more than 2,000 people overall voted in person early in Lee County, above the 1,400 or so in 2010. A lot of the attention in the county focused on the weekend’s pottery and wine festival in Sanford.

Both the 2010 and 2014 primaries featured a U.S. Senate race, but interest in the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan this November exceeded the energy for the race to take on Republican Sen. Richard Burr. Hagan’s political vulnerability attracted eight Republican candidates.

“I’m really glad to see that many people interested,” Jerry Manning, 65, said after leaving the Lee County Board of Elections office in downtown Sanford, where he voted in the Republican primary.

Voters like Manning said they voted early out of civic duty or convenience. Hundreds of thousands of additional voters are expected to cast ballots Tuesday for U.S. Senate, Congress, the legislature, court posts and local seats. Voter turnout through Friday equaled about 3.5 percent of the registered voters.

In 2010, the overall primary turnout was only 14 percent. Turnout in similar non-presidential election years has ranged from 8 to 21 percent since 1990, according to state elections board data.

“I think it’s just general apathy. People just don’t care to vote in the primary,” said Kenny Washington, a Democratic activist from Moore County.

Washington was at Lee County’s political hot spot Saturday as Democrats held their 2nd Congressional District convention at the county courthouse. The three candidates who want to challenge Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers in November gave short speeches to about 100 people. They included “American Idol” runner-up Clay Aiken, former state Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco and licensed family counselor Toni Morris. Ellmers has her own primary Tuesday against Frank Roche.

Others voters Saturday cast ballots with certain issues or the general direction of the state or nation in mind. Couple Brian and Abby Holt, of Sanford, said they’re concerned about new national education standards called Common Core being implemented by North Carolina and 40 other states. Many conservatives want the standards removed.

“We just like traditional education. It worked for us,” said Brian Holt, 36, who chose obstetrician Greg Brannon in the Republican Senate primary. The GOP primary’s leading candidates all visited early voting sites Saturday — Brannon in Cary and state House Speaker Thom Tillis and Baptist minister Mark Harris in the Charlotte area.

Outside the voting site at Lee County’s cooperative extension office, Democrat Larry McAuley, 66, of Sanford, voted while sending a message of his unhappiness with how Republicans have operated North Carolina state government since taking over in 2011. He points out tax changes that Democrats argue benefit only the wealthy and the refusal to expand Medicaid.

Republicans are “trying to turn things around, cut the progress out,” McAuley said. “Any dummy can see through what they’re doing.”