by Kirk Ross
An historic spring primary winds up this week with both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and their supporters criss-crossing the state in search of votes and North Carolinians brave enough to have their televisions on, subjected to a near-endless barrage of state and national campaign ads.
Local and some statewide candidates have been working Orange County rallies and early-voting sites as well.
On the heels of former Pres. Bill Clintonâ€™s visit to Hillsborough, Barack Obama held what his supporters said was his largest indoor rally to date Monday at the Smith Center. He spent the next morning touring the Smith Center and getting some playing time in a pick-up game with the likes of Marcus Ginyard and Tyler Hansbrough.
Last Thursday, hundreds queued up in the parking lot of Balloons and Tunes to get tickets for this Fridayâ€™s early-vote concert and rally for Obama with Arcade Fire and Superchunk at the Town Commons. The rally, which could draw a crowd of more than 4,000, runs from 1 to 4 p.m.
Early voting ends on Saturday at 1 p.m. Anyone in line by then will be given an opportunity to vote. After that, according to Orange County elections director Tracy Reams, the early-voting audits are conducted and the sites will undergo conversion to regular precincts in preparation for Tuesdayâ€™s primaries and elections.
Early-voting totals show an unprecedented turnout, including more than 400 voters taking advantage of the new same-day registration and voting option. By 5 p.m. Wednesday, early-vote totals neared the 10,000 mark, with 4,809 of that coming from the Morehead Planetarium site alone. The county had also certified 412 absentee ballots as of Wednesday, Reams said.
Since North Carolina has not played a major role in selecting a party nominee since 1976, and since early voting is a relatively new process, it is difficult to compare this year to years past. About 33,000 Orange County voters took advantage of one-stop voting or mailed in absentee ballots in the 2004 general election.
Reams said the estimated party breakdown for those who have voted so far shows 7,160 Democrats, 619 Republicans and 2,098 unaffiliated voters.
Reams said the elections board opted to add extra machines and poll workers in anticipation of a heavy turnout. The pace and the fact that the Seymour Center voting site stays open until 8 p.m. has kept election workers busy.
â€œWeâ€™ve had some very long days,â€ Reams said.
At the 44 Orange County precincts, polls open Tuesday at 6:30 a.m. and close at 7:30 p.m.
More information can be found on the countyâ€™s Board of Elections site at www.co.orange.nc.us/elect/index