Even though Mecklenburg trailed the state average in turnout for Tuesday’s election, a long ballot and the ban on straight-ticket voting likely caused waits as long as an hour at the polls.
Michael Dickerson, director of the county’s Board of Elections, said Mecklenburg would try to determine if the seven-page ballot or not having a one-punch party option caused the waits.
Tuesday marked the first general election since 1925 that North Carolina did not have straight-party voting, an option the Republican-led General Assembly ended last year. In 2016, a new law will require voters to show government-issued ID cards before casting a ballot.
Dickerson said Mecklenburg has some 2,200 voting machines. It used about 210 for early voting, 200 for testing at Election Day sites and 1,600 for Tuesday’s voters.
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“The only thing you can do is put more material out there, more people out there,” Dickerson said. “Would that have helped? I can’t answer.”
Marc Friedland, chairman of the Mecklenburg Democratic Party, said the ban on straight-party voting and a lengthy ballot is “not conducive to engaging the electorate.”
Friedland said machine and paper problems also led to short delays at Precinct 146, near Mallard Creek Road and West WT Harris Boulevard, and Precinct 59, near South Boulevard and Archdale Drive – two Democrat-leaning areas.
About 266,000 Mecklenburg residents – roughly 39 percent of those registered – cast a ballot. That’s a lower rate than the state, which saw some 44 percent of those registered go to the polls. In all, 2.9 million North Carolinians voted, a record for a midterm election
Dickerson said Mecklenburg typically sees a lower turnout than the state average.
Locally, turnout was strongest in Republican strongholds, such as north Mecklenburg and south Charlotte, where several precincts has as many as 55 percent of voters cast a ballot, data show.
Brad Overcash, chairman of MeckGOP, credited the party’s “ground game” for a strong turnout. He did not hear of any major problems but said delays could be attributed to the ballots multitude of races – from U.S. Senate to local commissioners, judges, bonds, a sheriff’s race and a constitutional amendment.
“On the whole, things went smoothly,” Overcash said. “I think both not having the straight-ticket and the longer ballot problem, increased the time each voter spent at each machine.”