New election analysis from Democracy NC

By: - November 20, 2008 3:16 pm

North Carolina elections/democracy guru Bob Hall has some new analysis to share about early voting and turnout. Here’s the link to his spreadsheet on 2004 v. 2008 turnout.

“New Data Shows Lopsided Results from Early Voting versus Election Day
Attached County-by-County Chart Shows Record Voter Turnout Rates

* Obama, Hagan and Perdue each led by more than 300,000 votes after Early Voting, then lost on Election Day

* North Carolina hits 70% turnout of registered voters; eight counties hit 75%

* The worrisome “under-vote” (voters skipping the presidential race) reached only 1.0%

Now that nearly all North Carolina counties have certified their vote counts, more details are emerging about this historic election.  A couple localized recounts are still underway and the State Board of Elections will not certify the results until November 25, but new information dramatizes the significance of the Early Voting turnout to the overall election results. 

Previous data indicated that Barack Obama led John McCain by nearly 180,000 votes after the Early Voting period, then lost most of that lead with Election Day voters.  Because of a glitch in how several counties (including Durham and Wake) reported their returns, the gap between Early Voting and Election Day results was actually much larger than previously reported.

For example, the attached chart indicates that Obama led McCain by about 343,000 votes at the end of the Early Voting period, while McCain outpaced Obama on Election Day by nearly 330,000 votes. After provisional ballots were counted, Obama’s lead now stands at 14,179 votes.


Barack Obama:  Early Voting – 1,382,121; Election Day – 747,637

John McCain:  Early Voting – 1,039,229; Election Day – 1,077,086

The attached chart shows that Kay Hagan led Elizabeth Dole by more than 400,000 votes in the Early Voting period, but Dole led Hagan by 44,000 votes on Election Day.

Bev Perdue led Pat McCrory by 312,000 votes at the end of Early Voting, and then lost by about 170,000 on Election Day. 

A few smaller counties have not yet allocated their votes between Election Day and Early Voting, but these lopsided differences are not expected to change.

Overall, more than 4,354,000 of the state’s 6,245,000 registered voters cast ballots, for a turnout rate of 70% — the highest turnout since 1968.

That’s a big jump from the 64% turnout in 2004 and all indications are that North Carolina achieved the biggest gain in turnout in the nation — a bigger jump in voter turnout over 2004 than any other state, according to Democracy North Carolina’s review of available data.

Chatham County led the state with a 78% turnout rate, while Warren County led with the biggest jump over its performance in 2004.  The heightened participation by African Americans and Democrats, especially during the Early Voting period, means that most of the counties with the biggest jumps in turnout from 2004 to 2008 are in the east; however, these counties are not necessarily among those with highest turnout for this year.

The 10 counties with the highest turnout for 2008 (ranging from 78 to 74%) are: Chatham, Davie, Durham, Moore, Forsyth, Alleghany, Wake, Person, Greene, and Granville.

The 10 counties with the lowest turnout (ranging from 58 to 64%) are: Robeson (last place), Onslow, Swain, Cumberland, Cherokee, Scotland, Hoke, Jackson, McDowell, and Avery.

Democracy North Carolina applauds election officials across the state for a superior performance of their own. The intense preparation, additional investment in Early Voting opportunities, training of poll workers, and problem-solving attitude helped keep problems to a minimum.

Election officials made a special effort to explain the odd nature of North Carolina’s straight-party ballot to voters.  Under NC law, choosing the straight-party option does not include casting a vote in the presidential race; that must be done separately.  Democracy North Carolina and various national organizations have criticized the law, and in years past, reports indicate that as many as 2% of the voters have skipped the presidential contest, or “under voted.”  Some voters likely intentionally don’t want to cast a ballot for a presidential candidate, but it is likely that many of these under votes are caused by confusion with the straight-party option.

Because of media attention and extra education, the under vote this year was barely 1% (4,354,569 voters minus 4,310,770 votes for any presidential candidate = 43,799).  However, that is still more than 43,000 voters, enough for continuing concern about the impact of the straight-party ticket on elections in North Carolina.


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Rob Schofield
Rob Schofield

NC Newsline Editor Rob Schofield oversees day-to-day newsroom operations, authors and voices regular commentaries, and hosts the 'News & Views' weekly radio show/podcast.