The Party Line
3:33 pm
Thu July 11, 2013

Republicans Would Hurt Themselves If They End Early Voting

Michael Bitzer
Michael Bitzer

Now that North Carolina is out from under federal oversight from the 1965 Voting Rights Act, speculation is that the GOP super-majorities in the General Assembly will have free reign to rewrite the state’s election laws.

In particular, speculation has surfaced in several national media outlets, such as the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times, that NC Republican “leaders also began engineering an end to the state's early voting” in addition to restarting legislation requiring voter identification.

In 2008, Republicans were caught off guard during the early voting period, where Democrats outperformed their statewide registration figures, leading to the slim victory that Barack Obama was able to pull off.

Apparently the sting of that victory hasn’t worn off for some GOP leaders, even though Republicans were able to use early voting to their benefit in 2012.

As of 2012’s election day, Republicans made up 31 percent of the registered voter pool, with Democrats at 43 percent and unaffiliated voters at 26 percent.  But when it came to early voting, Republicans saw their share of the early voters, at 30 percent, nearly match their statewide registration.

Registered Democrats, however, were 49 percent of the early votes cast, while unaffiliated voters were only 21 percent of the voter pool. 

So one possible aim would be to cut down on registered Democrats using early voting and overperforming their statewide registration base. 

But the good news for the GOP among early voters was that they saw a 14 percent increase from 2008’s early vote pool, going from slightly over 671,000 early ballots cast from registered Republican voters to well over 765,000. 

Even more dramatic were unaffiliated voters, who saw the largest percentage increase (20 percent) from their numbers in 2008, while registered Democratic voters slightly dropped in their percentage, by 2 points, over their numbers in 2008.

Much has been made about the impact on certain groups if early voting was discontinued or curtailed, particularly based on race.  In 2012, of the 1 million-plus registered black voters who cast ballots, 70% of them voted early. That compare to 52 percent of the 3.2 million registered white voters who showed up early.

Another group that supposedly was advantaged by early voting were younger voters.  However, the Republicans may have actually been the beneficiaries in 2012’s early voting period.

Among the four age groups that the NC State Board of Elections uses, those voters over the age of 66 saw the greatest percentage of their age cohort cast their ballots early, at 63 percent.  The second largest cohort was 41-65, with 58 percent of the votes coming in early. 

Among those 18-26, 53 percent used early voting, while half of those 26-40 cast their ballots before Election Day. 

So while black North Carolinians used the period of early voting, and were overwhelmingly Democratic in their voting patterns, older North Carolinians also used early voting and went 2-to-1 for the Republican presidential candidate, according to the 2012 state exit polls.

Overall, 56 percent of all the 2012 ballots came during the in-person, one-stop voting period, with another 5 percent of the ballots cast coming from absentee mail-in ballots.

Only 38 percent of the 4.5 million ballots were cast on Election Day in 2012.

With the obvious popularity of early voting, and the fact that Republican voters learned their lesson from the 2008 election and may have benefited just as much in 2012 as Democrats did in 2008, one would have to speculate as to the reason for the GOP to want to eliminate early voting—other than just simple retribution for what they incorrectly perceive as a Democratic advantage from early voting. 

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