By Carey Phillips
The mad dash to election 2020 will conclude Tuesday with polls across North Carolina open from 6:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. on Election Day.
Voters are casting ballots for everything from president to county commissioner to state and local judges. And just for good measure locally, there’s a bond referendum on the ballot regarding a proposed indoor swimming pool.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, a record number of voters across the state chose to cast absentee mail-in ballots. Voters will continue to flock to one-stop voting sites through Saturday ahead of Tuesday’s grand finale.
As of Monday morning, there were 29,234 registered voters in Jackson County. That number figures to increase as voters can register and cast ballots on the same day at one-stop voting sites through Saturday.
Those sites include the Board of Elections Office, 876 Skyland Drive, Sylva; Cashiers Recreation Center, 355 Frank Allen Road, Cashiers; Cullowhee Recreation Center, 88 Cullowhee Mountain Road, Cullowhee; Qualla Community Building, 181 Shoal Creek Church Loop, Whittier; Western Carolina University, Hinds University Center, 245 Memorial Drive, Cullowhee.
Hours are 8 a.m.-7:30 p.m. through Friday and 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday.
The deadline to apply for absentee ballots has passed. Those ballots must be returned to the Board of Elections Office by 5 p.m. Tuesday by the voter or a near relative or be postmarked by 5 p.m. Tuesday. As of now, ballots received by mail by 5 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 12, will be counted. However, a case before the U.S. Supreme Court could change that deadline to 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 6.
“We’ve had a steady turnout,” said Lisa Lovedahl, election director for Jackson County. “With all the challenges we’ve had, the voting process is still going smooth and fast. The precinct workers are doing a really good job to make sure everyone is voting in a timely manner while also ensuring the voters’ and workers’ safety by sanitizing equipment between voters and check-in centers.”
Chris Cooper, head of WCU’s Political Science Department, said 11,915 Jackson County voters had cast ballots by absentee or one-stop through Saturday. By Monday afternoon that number had passed 14,000 to exceed the total of 13,323 votes cast in those categories in 2016, the last presidential election.
With nearly 41 percent of those registered already voting, the breakdown by party is almost identical to what it was in 2016 early voting, according to numbers provided by Cooper.
Democrats make up 39 percent of the vote thus far compared to 40 percent for the early voting period four years ago. Republicans are also down one percent, 27 to 26. Unaffiliated voters are up a percentage point from 33 to 34.
“It’s important to keep in mind with all of these data that given the make-up of party registration in Jackson and throughout the 11th Congressional District, that it will likely be the behavior of Unaffiliated voters that will determine this election,” Cooper said. “Unaffiliated registrants make up the largest group of voters in many Western North Carolina counties, including Jackson.
Cooper said Jackson County “could be the bellwether county in North Carolina.”
He noted that in 2016 Jackson was one of just four counties to follow the state trend of supporting Republican Donald Trump for president and Democrat Roy Cooper for governor. He added that the county supported Republicans for all Council of State races, except one.
That was for secretary of state, where Jackson went with Elaine Marshall, one of just three Democrats to win Council of State races statewide.
“Simply put, we’re a bright purple dot in a purple state,” he said.
Lovedahl said there were 2,385 mail-in absentee ballots returned as of Monday afternoon. That compares to 553 in 2016. Despite the increase, she is optimistic that totals from absentee and early voting will be released shortly after the polls close at 7:30 p.m.
“There are a lot of unknown factors, but the board has done everything possible with preparing and doing work beforehand to make sure the absentee by mail totals will be released as they normally would be,” she said.
Absentee votes that are returned Tuesday or later will not be counted until the vote canvass Nov. 13. That’s when provisional ballots will also be counted and the vote totals will become official.
This will be the first general election since the North Sylva/Dillsboro precinct was combined with South Sylva. Polling places are as follows:
Barkers Creek, Barkers Creek Community Building; Canada, Canada Fire Department; Caney Fork, Caney Fork Fire Substation; Cashiers, Cashiers Recreation Center; Cullowhee, Jackson County Recreation Center; Greens Creek, Savannah Community Building; Glenville, Glenville-Cashiers EMS Rescue Squad Building; Qualla, Qualla Community Building; River, VFW Building; Savannah, Savannah Fire Department; Scotts Creek, Balsam-Willets Fire Department; Sylva/Dillsboro, Skyland Services Center; Webster, old Webster School.