While lingering concern over potential voter intimidation will likely persist through Nov. 3, early in-person and mail-in voting in Chatham County has, so far, been a resounding success — a credit …
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While lingering concern over potential voter intimidation will likely persist through Nov. 3, early in-person and mail-in voting in Chatham County has, so far, been a resounding success — a credit to the county’s careful preparation for an historic election.
Statewide, 826,285 ballots were cast on Oct. 15, the first day of early voting, according to the N.C.’s state board of elections. Chatham County, which ranked first in the state in early-voter turnout per registered voters, was a major contributor to that figure.
The county has always ranked among the highest early voting supporters in North Carolina. In 2016, on the first day of early voting, 3,139 people voted in person in Chatham County. This year, 3,729 voted on day one — a 19% increase.
Mail-in ballots, however, tell a more dramatic story.
In 2016, 45 people cast absentee-by-mail ballots by the end early voting’s first day. That number soared to 8,263 this year, an 18,000% increase that numbered 30% of total absentee ballots cast for Chatham County’s entire 2016 election season.
As of Tuesday morning, 36.71% of registered voters in Chatham County had already cast their ballots.
Despite the unprecedented surge in early voting support, activity at the polls has been well-organized and calm. In recent months, there have been nationwide murmurs of voter intimidation and pugnacious “poll watchers” rearing to disrupt order. In response, many government agencies made concerted efforts to discourage unwelcome hypervigilance.
In Chatham, Sheriff Mike Roberson’s office has worked closely with the board of elections in the weeks leading up to Oct. 15. He was pleased with their early success.
“People have been polite,” Roberson said. “People have been cooperating, social distancing and, to be honest, it’s been crickets out there.”
Steve Simos, deputy director of the Chatham County board of elections office, spent day one of early voting “bouncing around” between the county’s 18 polling locations. He corroborated Roberson’s assessment of the day’s activity.
“I haven’t heard of anything happening at any of our sites,” he said. “And we’re in direct contact with Sheriff Roberson’s office, too.”
While the responsibility to oversee peaceable activity at the polls lay primarily with the BOE and sheriff’s office, some citizen organizations were permitted to establish a presence at polling sites. You Can Vote, a bipartisan volunteer organization based in Durham, set up tents at several polling sites where its members sought to “educate, register, and empower all North Carolina citizens to cast their ballot,” as per the group’s website.
“I’m out here to make sure everyone is registered to vote, making sure they’re not feeling intimidated by anyone else out here,” said Germilia Taylor, a You Can Vote volunteer who worked the Agricultural Conference Center polling location in Pittsboro. “This is an important election; we’re going to be a part of history.”
Thomas Strom, a volunteer with the Chatham Democratic Party, was amazed at the day one turnout.
“One of the election officials from the board of elections said it was the biggest turnout he’d ever seen,” Strom said. “And that’s just great; that’s amazing.”
It was Michelle Vitko’s first time volunteering at the polls. Although she had worked behind-the-scenes for the Democratic Party in years past, she was apprehensive about her first role in such a public capacity.
“I was kind of nervous because of some of the rhetoric in the news,” she said, “I was worried about guns. It’s a crazy thing that we even have to worry about that, but, fortunately, people have been respectful.”
Members of both political parties were well represented at the polls with some candidates for local office present. Jimmy Pharr, candidate for the Chatham County Board of Commissioners, spent his day at the Agricultural Center’s GOP tent greeting voters as they waited in line.
“It’s been fun,” he said, “people have been very nice, very respectful.”
Reporter D. Lars Dolder can be reached at email@example.com
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