Early voting triggers strong turnout

The line snaked through the South County Regional Library and stretched 30 yards down a sidewalk when early voting began Thursday morning.

David Pendel, a management consultant, wore a Barack Obama T-shirt to the library on Rea Road. He said he voted for George Bush in 2000 and 2004, but recently left the Republican Party: “I just think they have gone in the wrong direction.”

Homemaker Sue Melvin, a Bush voter in 2000 and 2004, voted for John McCain: “He's the man for the job. I don't want to take a chance on a young guy who hasn't done anything. And I don't trust his background.”

Elections director Michael Dickerson said turnout Thursday was heavy “all over the place, not just in one part of town.” An early count showed that at least 7,000 people voted, he said.

At the Plaza Midwood library, one man stood in line as early as 7:30 a.m. – even though voting didn't begin until 11 a.m.

With North Carolina now seen as a presidential toss-up state, and the Obama campaign heavily organized here, Mecklenburg elections officials are bracing for heavy turnout – both in early voting and on Election Day. The Mecklenburg Board of Elections has designated 20 early voting sites, compared with 12 in 2004.

Four years ago, 744 people cast ballots on the first day of early voting when there was only one polling place open.

Dickerson said he's hoping 150,000 people vote early out of the expected 400,000 to 450,000 Mecklenburg voters.

Both campaigns are pushing early voting because it gives them insurance against potential problems on Election Day, such as bad weather. It also gives them multiple chances to bring ambivalent voters to the polls.

The Mecklenburg elections office will update the names of people who voted early each night. That will give both Republicans and Democrats valuable information for targeting voters in the last 21/2 weeks of the campaign.

Obama supporters were the most visible at the South County Regional Library, with many wearing T-shirts touting the Democrat. But there were plenty of McCain supporters there, too.

Julie Young, who is in medical sales, is a Republican who voted for Bush twice. On Thursday, she voted for McCain. She said she didn't question Obama's intelligence, but said she wasn't convinced he had enough experience to be president.

Her husband, Tracy Young, said he voted for Bush twice and wasn't enthusiastic about McCain. But Obama's ticket “is just more of the same (Democratic policies),” he said.

At the Beatties Ford Road Library, an Obama volunteer said he was giving rides to voters. Another Obama volunteer came with bottled water that she gave to voters waiting in line outside, on an unusually warm October day.

Skip Klapheke, a retired banker, voted for Obama at Central Piedmont Community College uptown.

“We just need a fresh start,” he said. “We've got years of hard work to get out from where we are.”

Crowded polling places were reported around the state.

In Raleigh, Louise Renner, 79, voted for the first time since 1976 because she is angry.

Using a walker, she inched her way down Fayetteville Street from her apartment complex to be one of the first to cast her ballot at the Wake Board of Elections office. Renner declined to say who she was voting for, but said she wanted to make a statement by voting early.

“I'm so burned up with the way this country is being run,” she said. “It's not just one thing, but everything.”

Kenny McLawhorn, a UNC-Chapel Hill freshman from Kinston, voted in his first election Thursday. He voted a straight Republican ticket, even though the 18-year-old said he was not happy with the way President Bush has conducted the war in Iraq.

“McCain I see as not as far right as Bush is,” McLawhorn said. “He's more moderate, and Obama's too far left.”

Michael Evans, political director for the Mecklenburg Democratic Party, said he would like to see 50 percent of Democrats vote early.

He said a concerted get-out-the-vote effort will begin later this month, with volunteers picking people up at senior centers and low-income housing projects. He said Democrats have a “Souls to the Polls” event planned for Sunday, Oct. 26, to take people from church to the polls.

Mecklenburg Republicans plan to use volunteers to place door-hangers on Republican households listing the party's candidates and will also do a mailing. For the first time, the party is planning to place volunteer poll observers at all early voting sites.

The (Raleigh) News & Observer contributed.
Related stories from Charlotte Observer