The popularity of in-person early voting in North Carolina has allowed officials to defer action on several hundred bulging precincts that otherwise would slow Election Day voting to a snail’s pace. Forty-eight percent of the state’s 6.6 million registered voters now live in voting precincts with at least 3,000 voters — an important threshold in a previous state study — compared to 43 percent four years ago, according to an election reform group’s analysis. More than one-quarter of voters are in precincts with at least 4,000 voters, most in urban or high-growth suburban counties. “We now have super-sized precincts in North Carolina,” said Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina.
Early voting sites are relief valves to take in voters from these large precincts. So the adequacy of North Carolina’s early voting plans in light of extra-large precincts has gained attention as a federal appeals court last month struck down the state’s 2013 voter ID law approved by Republicans. The decision also ordered the early voting period cover 17 days again, compared to 10 under the canceled law.
Counties have until next Friday to rework their early voting schedules. But they’re under no obligation, like under the old law, to provide at least the same number of cumulative hours of early voting as in 2012. State officials are asking county election boards — controlled by the GOP — to think long and hard before reducing early voting locations and hours in light of heavy expected turnout in the presidential battleground state. Otherwise, some big precincts could see extra-long lines Nov. 8.