More than $100 million has been spent on thousands of television ads, but today the voters are speaking.
It’s Election Day in the Carolinas and elsewhere across the country, and voters will decide on local, county, state and federal issues – including the region’s highlight race, the U.S. Senate battle in North Carolina between Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan and Republican challenger Thom Tillis.
The polls are open in North Carolina until 7:30 p.m. In South Carolina, where the governor’s seat is at stake, voting continues until 7 p.m.
The weather is no problem. After a chilly morning, temperatures are expected to climb into the lower 70s with a mix of sun and clouds.
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Mechanical breakdowns have been a problem in a few places, however.
Several voters reported that up to five of the seven machines at Myers Park Traditional Elementary School (Precinct 8) were not working early Tuesday afternoon. One man told the Observer that the breakdowns had produced long lines, and that some voters were leaving without casting ballots.
Problems with voting machines also were reported in Cumberland County near Fayetteville.
More than 91,000 voters cast ballots in the early voting period this year in Mecklenburg County, but voters were lined up early Tuesday morning at polling places. About a half-dozen people were in line before 6 a.m. at the Matthews Community Center, waiting in the predawn darkness to vote.
“I always vote, but the Senate race is the big one this year, I guess,” said a male voter, not giving his name.
Voters also lined up in advance of the 6:30 a.m. polling place opening at Mint Hill Town Hall and Eastover Elementary School in southeast Charlotte, among other locations.
Voting turnout appeared to be uneven.
Shortly before 8 a.m., there were long lines at Precinct 92, Quail Hollow Presbyterian Church on Park Road in south Charlotte. A 45-minute wait to vote was reported about 8:30 a.m. at Precinct 109, Hawthorne Recreation Center on Hawthorne Lane in east Charlotte.
A voter at Avondale Presbyterian Church (Precinct 20) on Park Road in south Charlotte reported a 20-minute wait early Tuesday afternoon. At the South Point High School precinct in Belmont, Gaston County voters waited about 15 minutes to cast ballots at 7 a.m. By 7:15 a.m., about 70 people had voted.
But nobody came in or out of the polling place for 25 minutes around 8:30 a.m. at Precinct 63, New Hope Baptist Church at Idlewild Road and W.T. Harris Boulevard. A short distance away, at Cokesbury United Methodist Church (Precinct 130) on Idlewild Road, Paul Lewis emerged from the fellowship center and said it took only five minutes to vote.
“There was absolutely nobody in line,” said Lewis, 28. “There was no wait at all. It was five minutes, at the most. That’s a small investment of time to make for something as important as casting a vote.”
Outside Mecklenburg County, conditions appeared to be about the same.
There are a few changes in North Carolina voting laws this year.
Voters are not able to cast straight-ticket ballots. More than 117,000 Mecklenburg County voters cast straight-ticket ballots four years ago. And voters must cast ballots in the precinct where they are registered.
In South Carolina, voters must take photo identification with them to the polls. Voters in North Carolina are being asked if they have photo ID, but it will not be required to vote until 2016.
The big story of this Election Day in the Carolinas is the Hagan-Tillis race. Both candidates and their supporters have spent huge amounts of money, and pollsters rate the race as a virtual toss-up.
In final polling, the left-leaning Public Policy Poll reported Monday that Hagan has a narrow 46 to 44 percent lead over Tillis, with Libertarian candidate Sean Haugh at 5 percent. The right-leaning Harper poll had Tillis ahead by the 46-to-44 percent margin.
The Hagan-Tillis race has national importance, as Republicans are seeking to win six seats to gain a majority of the Senate. The GOP is expected to retain an edge in the House.
But local issues also will be driving citizens to the polls Tuesday.
In Mecklenburg County voters will be asked to decide on a quarter-cent sales tax increase. Eighty percent of the money raised from that tax would be used to pay Charlotte-Mecklenburg school teachers. The remainder would be used for CPCC, arts education and the public library system.
It is unclear what effect – if any – the sudden resignation of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Heath Morrison on Monday will have on the sales tax issue. Morrison was an advocate of the tax hike.
In South Carolina, Republican Gov. Nikki Haley is seeking re-election but is opposed by Democrat Vincent Sheheen. Polls show Haley with a big edge, but the two candidates were busy Monday, making a number of campaign stops around the Palmetto State.
Haley told crowds that “we are just getting started,” touting improvements in education along with tax cuts and business growth. Sheheen said he is better positioned to create job growth, and he told voters that South Carolina “needs an honest governor again.”