Aconsistently higher number of citizens taking advantage of early voting for the Nov. 5 municipal election in Pitt County begs an important question: Are the increased numbers due to higher interest in certain races; or is a new voting law, not yet in effect, actually inspiring more citizens to go out and vote?
The answer may include a little of both.
Early voting numbers since one-stop voting sites opened on Oct. 17 have consistently totaled more than twice the number of ballots cast early in the 2011 municipal election. The numbers from two years ago are not much different than the numbers from 2009, which only adds intrigue to the current turnout totals.
Greenville’s municipal races — where the mayor’s office and all but one seat on the City Council are engaged in a heated battle for majority control — can certainly account for some of the rise in early voting.
Since Mayor Allen Thomas defeated incumbent mayor Pat Dunn two years ago, he has built a coalition on the council that tends to vote pro-business and for bold economic development strategies. A minority of two current council members lean more to neighborhood preservation and smart-growth initiatives.
Thomas is being challenged by former IBM executive Thomas Best, who wants to return the mayor’s role to one of primarily presiding over meetings and steer away from the active executive role Mayor Thomas has assumed in office.
Those deep divisions have generated much interest in the election and will inspire more people to vote. Even doubling the number of voters in a municipal election, however, amounts to a fraction of the voter turnout seen in general elections.
Still, the higher turnout is raising eyebrows among election officials, who are anxious to see if the numbers translate to long lines and record turnout on Nov. 5. If that happens, there is sure to be more speculation that the Voter Information Verification Act, or “voter ID law,” approved earlier this year by the state legislature, may actually be inspiring people to vote.
Along with requiring voter ID and other restrictions, the new law will eliminate same-day voter registration, shorten the early voting period and remove straight-ticket voting from the ballot. If the prospect of those changes is not drawing some citizens to exercise their Constitutional right, at least partly as a show of solidarity, it should be.