Politics & Government

A spike in absentee ballot requests from NC Democrats, typically a GOP strength

Democrats in North Carolina have asked for absentee ballots far more often than registered Republicans, a change from the last midterm elections in 2014.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Democratic campaigns in the three most competitive congressional districts have been talking to potential voters about the option of voting by mail. At least some of those voters are getting absentee ballot applications mailed to them.

“If hardworking people are unhappy with the Republicans’ harmful agenda, and want to have a say in the direction of our country, there is nothing more important that they can do than vote,” southern regional DCCC spokesman Cole Leiter said in an email. “Campaigns in North Carolina and the DCCC are making concerted, early pushes to make sure more people are able to cast their ballots, vote, and make their voices heard, and this must continue until the end.”

Registered Democrats made 45 percent of absentee ballot requests as of Tuesday, according to data gathered by Catawba College political scientist Michael Bitzer. He has been keeping a running daily total of absentee ballot requests, and has been posting the information on Twitter.

The burst of absentee ballot requests from Democrats marks a change from past elections, where Republicans have traditionally held an edge in mail-in voting.

Absentee ballot requests from Republicans have accounted for 24 percent of the total so far. Republican voters are being outpaced by unaffiliated voters, who account for 31 percent of the requests.

Voters registered with third parties have filed fewer than 1 percent of the absentee ballot forms.

Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the state Republican Party, said he wasn’t worried about Republicans falling behind in absentee ballot requests. The Democrats asking for mail-in ballots probably would have voted anyway, he said, either in person on Nov. 6 or during the early voting period that started Wednesday.

“We’re not concerned,” Woodhouse said. “I don’t think it shows any kind of larger issue.”

The deadline for requesting absentee ballots from local elections boards is 5 p.m., Oct. 30.

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More than 18,000 absentee ballot requests so far have come from people who were registered to vote in 2014 but didn’t cast ballots that year, according to Bitzer.

In 2014, mail-in ballots accounted for about 2.6 percent of ballots cast, according to State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement data. Registered Republicans cast nearly 46 percent of the 76,296 absentee ballots that year, while registered Democrats cast a little more than 31 percent.

Organizations are not required to notify the state elections board of plans for absentee ballot drives, board spokesman Patrick Gannon said in an email.

A group called The Center for Voter Information mailed 202,000 absentee ballot applications to North Carolina voters with postage-paid envelopes addressed to local boards of election. The Center for Voter Information did not target Democrats, said Page Gardner, president of the Voter Participation Center. Gardner is also president of the Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund, an organization that seeks to increase voting by unmarried women, younger voters, and racial and ethnic minorities.

The action fund is a project of the Center for Voter Information, Gardner said. The action fund is classified as a social welfare organization and does not have to disclose its donors.

The state NAACP is making information about absentee voting available to voters in counties hit hard by Hurricane Florence, said Joy Cook, the organization’s spokeswoman.

However, most of the absentee ballot requests are coming from outside Eastern North Carolina, according to Bitzer’s analysis.

It shows that the top three congressional districts for absentee ballot requests are District 9, where Democrat Dan McCready and Republican Mark Harris are competing for an open seat; District 2, where Democrat Linda Coleman is trying to unseat incumbent Repubilcan George Holding, and District 13, where Democrat Kathy Manning is challenging incumbent Republican Ted Budd.

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Bonner: 919-829-4821: @Lynn_Bonner