Publisher's note: This post, by Andy Jackson, was originally published in Civitas's online edition.
One-stop (absentee in-person) voting starts today in North Carolina, which means that we will have our first records of one-stop voting on Vote Tracker
tomorrow for your viewing and analytic pleasure.
This is also a good time to see how the first part of absentee-by-mail voting is going compared to four years ago. The short answer is that absentee-by-mail voting has dropped off compared to this point in 2016, by a lot. We have had 2,416 absentee ballots accepted so far this election
compared to 10,052 accepted at this point in 2016
Why would that be?
The exclusive absentee-by-mail period is a little shorter this year (31 days compared to 37), but that is not the main reason mail balloting is down. The biggest amount of mail ballots accepted so far this year is 371 on February 10. There were nine days with greater returns in 2016, with the largest one-day total being 1,485.
Perhaps the downturn is because there is not an interesting presidential race on the republican side. Indeed, Republican primary ballots declined from 4,722 in 2016 to 910 this year (a drop of 3,812) but Democratic ballots also declined from 5,123 to 1,489 (a drop of 3,634). Those totals include unaffiliated voters who requested to vote in either party's primary. There were 3,331 mail ballots accepted by this point in 2012
, suggesting that this year's totals are closer to normal and that 2016 was unusual.
The elephant in the room here is the possibility that the 2018 9th District ballot harvesting scandal
in Bladen and Robeson counties has simultaneously scared some voters off of using mail-in ballots and made groups across the political spectrum cautious about engaging in or supporting absentee-by-mail efforts. To cite an obvious example, it should come as a surprise to no one that mail-in ballots submitted in Bladen County have declined from 306
at this point four years ago to just 11 so far this year
. The political infrastructure that supported absentee-by-mail balloting has also declined, although the full impact of that will not be known until the general election in November. For example, one group that had traditionally paid people who were engaged in encouraging mail balloting (to put it mildly
) in those counties received money
from the State Democratic Party in 2018 but received nothing
from them in 2019 to help with the 9th District special election.
There have been similar, if less dramatic, declines in absentee-by-mail voting across the state.
In-person voting is generally more secure than absentee-by-mail voting and should only be done by those who cannot make it to a polling place, so this decline is not a cause for concern.
What you can do:
If you plan to vote one-stop, you can use this tool
from the NC State Board of Elections to locate and get information on one-stop sites in your county. Of course, you can also keep following the early voting on Vote Tracker.