NC: Early Voting Changes Culture of Election Day

12/05/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

NORTH CAROLINA--The effects of early voting can be seen at the polls in central North Carolina: the polls I visited this afternoon have had no lines, and the insides of the school gyms look cavernous and empty. Forty, fifty, up to seventy percent of registered voters in some counties have already cast their ballots.

Those who haven't are being assiduously targeted by the Obama campaign. At E.K. Powe Elementary School, a pair of Democratic poll watchers was checking the lists of registered voters against the campaign's. The names of anybody who hadn't turned up yet were text messaged to the Democratic headquarters, which dispatched volunteers to canvass those voters and offer rides to the polls.

(Republicans in Durham have no such system in place. See my earlier article.)

Although most people have praised early voting for increasing opportunities for citizens to cast ballots, and most likely improving overall turnout by allowing same-day registration as well, several people lamented the loss of the usual Election Day crowds.

"It used to be that Election Day was when you could see everybody's baby and husband," said one election judge.

"Election Day was the one time you could see all your neighbors and friends without anybody having to die," said another volunteer.

A local vendor had offered to bring popsicles to the lines of voters, but changed course upon finding so few people waiting. Instead, she donated popsicles to campaign workers, who had already amassed stores of bananas and snacks.

If today's pattern is any indication, early voting may force Durham and other areas with early voting to re-think voting precincts. At the moment, the county has only divided large precincts with many voters; in the future, it may need to find a way to combine smaller ones to save resources on Election Day.