Before polls open, record numbers of N.C. voters have made their decisions

By Julie Havlak

Raleigh, NC – It’s Election Day, but a record number of North Carolinians have already decided.

This election is on track to smash records. Voter turnout could climb as high as 75%, according to estimates by Michael Bitzer, a political science professor at Catawba College.

The election will decide the makeup of the General Assembly, the state Supreme Court, the Council of State, the governor’s mansion, and future electoral districts. Every state Senate seat and most House seats are contested.

“It would blow all previous records out of the water,” says Rick Henderson, Carolina Journal editor-in-chief. “The question is how much early voting has cannibalized election day ballots.”

Henderson was part of a virtual panel of political experts who talked about Tuesday’s election as part of a Shaftesbury Society virtual event Monday, Nov. 2. 

The panel, hosted by the John Locke Foundation, included Becki Gray, senior vice president; John Trump, managing editor of Carolina Journal; Mitch Kokai, John Locke Foundation senior political analyst; and Henderson. 

North Carolina has about 7.3 million registered voters. Voters have already cast 3.6 million one-stop early voting ballots, and more than 939,000 absentee ballots. About 149,000 absentee ballots were outstanding, as of Monday afternoon. 

But don’t expect to know the results unless a clear winner emerges, the panelists said.

“Elections really aren’t over on election night. That’s been true for years, even before COVID-19,” Kokai said. “It’s a good reminder for us that unless the result is really clear on election night, the election is ongoing.”

When the results surface, North Carolinians’ choices will have national ramifications. The race between Republican Sen. Thom Tillis and Democrat Cal Cunningham is one example.

“This could have a major impact on who controls the Senate,” Kokai said. “If Biden wins the White House and Democrats keep the House, the only block on one party rule would be the Senate.”

The coronavirus pandemic and the current president will cast a long shadow down the ballot, panelists said.

“This election is all about COVID,” Gray said. “It permeates through every single race.”

The governor’s race will likely go to Cooper, panelists said. But his dominance highlights the importance of overlooked local and state races. 

“To be honest, I don’t see how Forest can pass him,” Trump said. “It’s not if Cooper wins, it’s what he’s going to do afterward.”

That makes the Council of State and N.C. Supreme Court races critically important, said Gray. Without a legislative supermajority, they are the only two bodies that can check Cooper’s executive power. 

Three of the seven seats on the state Supreme Court are up for election. Democrats currently hold a 6-1 majority, and they could sweep all of the seats. 

“I don’t think people understand the gravity of this race,” Gray said. “The General Assembly can do everything they can to pass good, commonsense policies into law, but, if challenged, they go to the Supreme Court. … The question of his authority will be determined by whoever is sitting on the Supreme Court and the Council of State.”

The Council of State races are also close — and voters should keep their eyes on the race for State Treasurer and State Superintendent. These races will decide the future of school choice and health care reforms for state employees. 

“His answer for having the economy recover is more subsidies, handouts, benefits to favored companies. It’s very much of a top-down, government-first proposal,” Henderson said. “The answer that Governor Cooper has is that we need more top-down leadership to tell what businesses can open and what can’t.”