Abraham Mahshie – Contributing Writer
Midterm election early voting has already surpassed the turnout recorded in 2014, with about 16 percent more registered Republicans heading to the polls than Democrats as of Friday.
Early voting registered Democrats and unaffiliated voters are about even at 1,528 and 1,653 voters casting ballots. Who early voters chose will not be known until 5 p.m. on election day, Tuesday, Nov. 6, said Gary Tallent, deputy director of the Macon County Board of Elections.
“It’s been pretty busy,” said Tallent, noting that ballots can be dropped off from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. “There’s pretty much a constant stream of people.”
The five-year elections veteran said he believes a combination of issues has gotten the Democratic and Republican bases out to the polls this year.
As of Friday, 5,608 Macon County voters cast their ballots, surpassing 2014’s mark of 5,277 in just the first nine days since early voting began on Oct. 17. Tallent also said this year sheriff’s race and a “highly contested” commissioners’ race have enticed voters to turn out.
The party-affiliated voters who have cast their ballots represent 23 percent of both registered Democrats and Republicans. Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats in Macon County 10,666 to 6,529. There are 8,992 unaffiliated voters and 134 Libertarians.
Board of Elections statistics indicate women slightly outnumber men in early voting, with 359 more women casting their ballot. Precinct 1 has had the strongest showing with 626 voters, followed closely by Precinct 3 with 616 voters.
About 21 percent of Macon County’s 26,321 registered voters have already cast their ballots.
Voters prepared, parties active
Tallent said most voters are walking in with sample ballots handed to them in the “buffer zone” under a tree by the respective parties.
Carla Miller, chair of the Macon County GOP, attributes her party’s success to an “extremely aggressive presence on Facebook.” Miller said the party’s page reaches 10,500 people, engaging about 8,900, meaning they spend time on the page reading, liking, or sharing material. Sample ballots are also available to download on the party’s webpage.
She added that this year’s election has been one of many firsts, with more than 100 volunteers signing up to take some of the 68 three-hour shifts at the party headquarters on Highlands Road and at the courthouse greeting voters and handing out “conservative ballots.”
“We are not here to harass or pressure,” she said. “We want to give the electorate all the information they need to make their mind up.”
John Gladden, vice chair of the Macon County Democratic Party, said registration and turnout this year have “exceeded expectations.”
In his third election cycle, volunteer interest has allowed the party to bulk up its phone bank and for the first time, do door to door canvassing.
“We have more volunteers than things for them to do,” he said, adding that the biggest surprise this year has been the number of Republicans and unaffiliated voters coming into the party headquarters on 45 Palmer Street Circle to ask for Democratic ballots.
Gladden added that women seem to be particularly motivated.
“Women feel like they are not being represented well. They are not being respected, and their voices are not being heard,” he said. “The national stuff has got to be a factor,” he said about the factors driving his base to vote this year. “All the craziness nationally.”
“People are coming out because they’ve had enough of what ever.” She added, “People are more angry and in some ways more vigilant about making their voice heard.”
Despite admitting she did not believe any race was “very contested” this election season, Miller said nonetheless, a lot of work needed to be done to get more eligible voters out casting ballots.
Gladden said local Democratic incumbents are feeling good about their chances, and both Bobby Kuppers’s and Phillip Price’s campaigns are making “very good traction” as challengers in uphill battles thanks to their deep Western North Carolina roots.
As for the high number of unaffiliated voters, Gladden believes they will be voting split tickets.
While optimistic about early turnout, Miller thinks both parties can do a better job turning out their base.
“There’s still a whole lot of work to be done on both sides.”
Gladden said voting statistics analyzed at the headquarters demonstrate that a lot of registered Democrats did not show up for the 2016 presidential election.
“They’re coming out strong, they’re back,” he said.
Early voting ends at 1 p.m. on the Saturday before the election, Nov. 3.