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What Record Early Voting in North Carolina Might Mean for Election Day

Early voting in North Carolina, which ended Saturday, hit record levels according to data from the State Board of Elections. In 11 of the state's 100 counties, at least 50 percent of registered voters cast ballots either by voting in-person at early voting centers or by absentee ballot. In 2012, just three counties hit the 50 percent mark.

In the state's most populous counties, Mecklenberg and Wake, tens of thousands more people voted early than in 2012, although the margins were smaller in Guilford and Forsyth counties. All but 13 counties saw large numbers of early voters compared to four years ago.

While political observers analyze what the early voting figures mean for the presidential, senatorial and gubernatorial races in the highly competitive state, it's also worth considering the impact on Election Day voting. The key question is whether the early voting is a sign of increased turnout generally, or of voters choosing to cast their ballots early rather than on Nov. 8. The latter scenario could mean fewer voters at the polls on Tuesday, which could improve wait times and other voting issues.

North Carolina also is one of the few states that tracks provisional ballots, and according to the state more than 2,200 have been cast by voters who were not able to complete a regular ballot. Most have been because there was no record of the person being registered to vote. North Carolina did offer same-day registration during early voting, but the ID requirements were different than for voting on Election Day. Having no existing voter registration was by far the most common reason for casting a provisional ballot in North Carolina in 2012, when more than 51,000 people voted that way.

The early data on provisional ballots differs in one significant way from the 2012 election. Of the 83 Native Americans who filled out a provisional ballot so far in 2016, 51 -- 61 percent -- did so because their voter registration records had been previously removed from the rolls. In the 2012 general election, when 548 Native Americans cast provisional ballots, less than one in five did so for that reason.

It's not clear why this is happening with greater frequency so far in 2016, or whether the numbers will balance out after Tuesday's voting.

About Electionland

ProPublica’s Electionland project covers problems that prevent eligible voters from casting their ballots during the 2020 elections. Our coalition of newsrooms around the country are investigating issues related to voter registration, pandemic-related changes to voting, the shift to vote-by-mail, cybersecurity, voter education, misinformation, and more.

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