One of the most contentious elements in North Carolina’s mid-term elections this year has been a down-and-dirty fight concerning the rules by which the state’s voters register and cast their votes. It's a battle that has involved court fights up to and including the nation’s Attorney General and Justice Department, and the Supreme Court. Though the voter registration period ended earlier this month, and early voting began last week in anticipation of next Tuesday’s Election Day, it's a battle that has not yet fully resolved. (The Justice Department has sued the state, and that lawsuit is pending.) Depending on whose argument and/or allegation you most believe, either the state’s Republicans in charge of the General Assembly last year appropriately passed measures to ensure that no electoral fraud could occur, or they had systematically changed the rules to minimize the numbers of likely Democratic voters who would — or could — cast their votes.
In fact, though Republicans across the country have made it a major priority in their agendas as they took control of state legislatures over the past few years, there is virtually no documented evidence of any such widespread voter fraud. Studies have shown that there are only a few handfuls of cases nationally where criminal charges have been brought against people who attempted to cast illegal votes. In contrast, the rules that have been put in place supposedly to deal with this “fraud” have been shown to discourage voters who would most likely vote Democratic: African Americans and other minorities, younger voters and senior citizens.
But if the results of the first four days of early voting in North Carolina tell us anything about the direction the wind is blowing, those measures might have backfired, as far as the Republicans are concerned.
According to analyses of the data provided by the state Elections Board done by several different organizations and as reported by the Charlotte Observer, nearly 300,000 votes were cast in those first four days. That's more than twice as many as in the first four days of early voting in 2010, the last mid-term election — and that tally was just 20,000 votes shy of the total cast in the first eight days that year. What that may indicate, some analysts say, is that many people who are angry at the new laws are determined not to let the changes stop them from casting their votes.
What’s more, the breakdown by party shows that “energy” is coming from Democrats and unaffiliated, independent voters — decidedly NOT Republicans. Looking again at those first four days, the totals cast by Democrats amounted to 93 percent of where they were at the same time in 2010, and unaffiliated voters were at the same level. Republicans, on the other hand, were at only 68 percent of their total.
And African Americans — whom analysts say are particularly angry at the new laws because they believe they were “targeted” by the Republican lawmakers — have cast 26 percent of those votes, up from 18 percent at the same time in 2010. As that group tends to vote Democratic, that rise in early-voting turnout is not a good sign for Republican candidates. The other demographic that seems to be turning out in larger numbers are women — who, again, generally speaking, tend to vote more for the Democratic candidate.
One key local Democratic political strategist, Dan McCorkle, confirmed this analysis of the voting in the first four days as it relates to our area: “The Mecklenburg turnout is a very strong indicator of Democratic victories from top to bottom. The Democrats seem to have a much higher voter intensity than the Republicans. And women are out-voting men by about 10 percent, which may be an indicator of a very strong gender gap favoring Kay Hagan.”
Of course, we’ve still got a week to go before Election Day, and things could change between now and then. But for the moment, at least, one could conclude that the main result of the Republicans’ attempt to change the ground rules, and by extension, the outcome around here politically may be headed for failure. Stay tuned.