By Chad Nance
Photos by Carissa Joines
“This is what Democracy looks like…”
The 2014 mid-term election is warming up to be marked by a historically high voter turn-out. Following the North Carolina Republican supermajority’s passage of draconian new voting regs that many saw as a blatant attempt at voter suppression, the very demographics that were targeted have come out in force and made 2014 One-Stop early voting a political moment in history that will be discussed far into the future. Were the state legislative races not so gerrymandered that there is little-to-no competition for incumbents, 2014 could have been a truly interesting year indeed.
On the final Saturday of One-Stop in Forsyth County the lines were bigger and longer than anyone has seen in the county in decades- even on Election Day in heavily contested Presidential races. The turnout is unprecedented and has been statistically the mirror image of 2010 when Republicans began their drive to power riding on an President Obama back-lash among hard-line conservatives. The line stretched all of the way down around inside of the Government building, outside, across the courtyard, and down the sidewalk stretching toward the former tobacco warehouses of the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter.
The line itself was filled with cheerful people, the majority of whom were wearing Carolina blue Kay Hagan stickers and generally treating the entire event as a celebration. There was also a more serious edge to many voters who saw their 2014 vote as one of defiance in the face of oppression. The weather was gloomy, but the mood was light and festive with children standing in line dressed for Halloween and in their Saturday morning pajamas.
At least three voters told me that they were there because they had been turned away from Mazie Woodruff on Friday at 5:00pm in spite of the fact that they were already in line. One young woman said that there were as many as 50 voters sent away and that elections workers told everyone in line that they would have to vote on Saturday or on Election Day. If this occurred it was a violation of election law. It was also ineffective as a voter deterrent because the anger over that alleged disenfranchisement had motivated several of the voters I spoke to insist that they would vote on Saturday no matter what.
According to Steve Hines, the director of the Forsyth County BOE, voters were not turned away from the polling site and were allowed to vote. Thus far there is no clear evidence either way beyond everyone’s word and assertions, although there were several witness who have begun to come forward and continue to come forward regarding the Mazie Woodruff allegations. CCD will be posting an update in the coming days.
On Saturday the Board of Elections had posted ad hoc signs outside that clearly informed voters that if they were on line at 1:00pm they would be allowed to vote. When 1pm came, elections officials and building security organized everyone who was in line and formed them into a single column that snaked around inside of the Forsyth County Government Building’s balconies. Director Hines asked for and received 12 extra voting machines so that the BOE could operate a total of 17. The hundreds of voters who stuck it out after 1pm were able to cast their votes three hours later at 3:57pm. That was when Amy Lawrence of Winston-Salem became the last voter to vote One-Stop in Forsyth County.
North Carolina as a whole posted 1,097,560 votes for 2014 One-Stop. That is a 21% increase over 2010. The total One-Stop votes cast in Forsyth County in 2010 were 25,058. 2014 One-Stop came in at 32,400 for a 29% increase in over-all turnout. Some breakdown highlights are as follows:
- Democrats had 49.53% of the total at 17,851.
- Republicans had 32.59% of the vote at 11,651.
- Unaffiliated voters were 17.34% of the total at 6,201.
- Libertarians had .14% of the total at 51.
- The average age of voters was 59.
- 64.8% of the voters were white.
- 32.36% of the voters were black.
- 55.9% were women.
- 43.31% were men.
These numbers mirror the state-wide trends with only a few percentage points either way. Some of those numbers are as follows:
- Democrats had 48.5% of the total at 532,026. That is a 25% increase over 2010.
- Republicans had 31.1% of the total at 341,523. That is a 5% increase over 2010.
- Unaffiliated & Libertarians had 20.4% of the total at 224,011. That is a 45% increase over 2010.
- 54.1% of the voters were women.
- 70.8% were white.
- 25.8% were black.
The real number to watch (and heading into 2016) is the increasingly large gap between women and men. This puts several local Forsyth County races into play and bodes well for the Democrats who have their fingers crossed for Kay Hagan. Down the ballot it has become anyone’s ballgame in some races because a low or depressed turnout always benefits the Republican Party whereas a big turnout benefits Democratic candidates. Either way North Carolina is looking at a historical mid-term turnout on Tuesday and the momentum (both angry and jubilant) seems to be with Democratic voters. The other number to pay attention to is 45%… That is the increase in the number of voters not connected to either major political party. The largest voting trend in NC early voting is a trend away from voters identifying Democratic or Republican.