RALEIGH, N.C. — Forget about long lines. North Carolina election officials say they’re more worried about bad weather greeting voters Monday at some early voting stations.
“The weather could chill participation,” state election executive director Gary Bartlett said.
A few early polling stations were closed Sunday in the eastern part or the state because of rain from Hurricane Sandy. But he said those polling stations would be open Monday.
But the main concern now is heavy snow from a major storm in the mountains of western North Carolina. Those early polling stations are open – even in Watauga County, which has received up to 8 inches of snow. So far, none of the early voting stations have been closed because of the snow.
“We’re keeping close watch on the conditions,” he said.
More than 1.5 million people, or nearly 23 percent of North Carolina’s 6.6 million registered voters, had voted statewide as of figures posted Monday. That includes those who cast ballots at early polling station or mailed in absentee ballots. In-person early voting ends Nov. 3.
The figures are up from 2008, said J., Michael Bitzer, a political science and history professor at Catawba College.
Most of those ballots were cast at early voting stations: Nearly 1.4 million people – 52 percent Democrats, 29 percent Republicans and 19 percent unaffiliated – had turned out. That was up from 1.1 million in 2008, when the breakdown was 58 percent Democrats, 25 percent Republicans and 17 percent unaffiliated voters.
As for mail-in ballots, 122,216 voters have done so this time, down from 133,658 in 2008.
“It appears that the myth of the Democratic lack of enthusiasm is just that - a myth. They hit very early numbers far and above those in the first couple of days in 2008,” he said. “I think the state is just a coin toss based on the ground numbers at this point.”
More than 2.4 million people total cast in-person early votes in 2008, or 55 percent of all ballots cast in the general election. Many attribute early voting by Democrats to President Barack Obama’s 14,000-vote win over Republican John McCain, the first for a Democrat in North Carolina in 32 years.
Voters can cast absentee ballots at more than 350 locations in all 100 counties. The pressure upon campaigns during the early voting period is enormous in a battleground state such as North Carolina, causing them to ramp up get-out-the-vote efforts.
An Elon University poll released Monday shows the presidential race a dead heat in North Carolina. The poll said Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney each have the support of 45 percent of likely voters. About 5 percent of the voters remain undecided. The telephone poll of 1,238 likely voters was conducted Oc. 21-26 and has a margin of error of 2.79 percentage points.
“The economy is the most prominent issue of the election and is an important reason why Mitt Romney is in a tight race with the incumbent president,” said Kenneth Fernandez, director or the Elon University poll. “But the respondents also seem to have a growing optimism about the economy. More people believe the economy will improve over the next year, and those optimists are more likely to vote for Barack Obama.”
Before the bad weather, there were extreme lines in some places, he said. At some early polling places in North Carolina’s 100 counties, some people had to wait two hours.
Bartlett had asked county boards to consider extending early voting times and adding weekend days. Such decisions would require unanimous approval by a local board.
For the most part, there have been few problems with voting machines, Bartlett said.
“We had a couple of machines in two or three counties that had to be recalibrated, one screen had to be replaced. But so far, all the machines are back up and running and have not had any more issues. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be more. That’s how life is,” he said.