Politics & Government

Turnout: NC sets record for midterm election; Mecklenburg lines long

The hard-fought Senate race between Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan and Republican challenger Thom Tillis appeared to be powering voter turnout in Mecklenburg County on Tuesday.

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.

Some voters said waits were longer than they had expected.

“The last time I voted here the line was nothing,” Leslie Culbertson, 45, said Tuesday afternoon outside of Eastover Elementary School. She left without casting her ballot because she said her remaining wait could have been about an hour, and she had to pick up her children from school.

The North Carolina Board of Elections said just after 10:30 p.m. that midterm voter participation in the state set a record Tuesday, with 2.71 million voters casting ballots. In 2010, turnout was 2.7 million.

In Mecklenburg, voters encountered a ballot filled with candidates for a variety of U.S., state and local offices, as well as a referendum to raise the local sales tax by a quarter-cent, chiefly to increase teacher pay.

“The long ballot will add to the wait times,” Michael Dickerson, director of the county’s Board of Elections, said.

Some faced delays in casting ballots because of mechanical problems. Machines at some polling places went down temporarily throughout the day after running out of paper, Dickerson said.

For some voters, the U.S. Senate battle was the key draw.

“The battleground for me is the Senate race,” Cornelius resident Michael Beecham, 48, said as he stood in line at Cornelius Town Hall to vote for Tillis.

Dickerson had initially expected a final county turnout of 40 percent to 45 percent. By late Tuesday afternoon, with more voters than he expected flocking to the polls, he revised his estimate higher to about 50 percent.

During the 2010 midterm election, Mecklenburg County voter turnout was 37.98 percent. In the midterm election before that, in 2006, turnout was 30 percent.

Changes to North Carolina’s voting laws affected voters Tuesday.

North Carolina voters were not able to cast straight-ticket ballots for the first time since 1925. More than 117,000 Mecklenburg County voters cast straight-ticket ballots four years ago.

Dickerson said the lack of straight-ticket ballots could have added to wait times Tuesday.

Several voters reported that up to five of the seven machines at Myers Park Traditional Elementary School were not working early Tuesday afternoon.

There were other issues elsewhere.

The elections board voted not to extend voting at precincts in Lincoln County that opened late after a power outage. The board also didn’t extend voting in Johnston County, where erroneous photos for two precincts were displayed on a government website.

In Mecklenburg, Dickerson said five of eight machines at Turning Point Academy – at 2300 W. Sugar Creek Road – were down all at once for about 25 minutes after they ran out of paper.

Dickerson said the problem occurred when a precinct worker who didn’t feel well went home. The Board of Elections sent someone to change the paper, he said.

The incident drew criticism from the Charlotte NAACP.

“The thing is that in this day and time when there’s so much anxiety and there’s so much talk about voter suppression ... it seems like the Board of Elections ... would do all that it can to make its polls accessible,” organization President Kojo Nantambu said. The Associated Press and staff writer Steve Lyttle contributed.

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Twitter: @DeonERoberts