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Thousands vote early in Orange

Photo by Ava Barlow. Elisabeth Scott, a volunteer for the Orange County Democratic Party, gives a sample ballot highlighting the Democratic candidates to Will Hackney of Chapel Hill. Hackney was on his way in to the Carrboro Town Hall to participate in early voting Saturday.By Kirk Ross and Mary Lide Parker
Staff Writers

You must mark your choice for president. Marking a straight ticket does not include a vote for president.

Between now and Election Day, some variation of the above two sentences are likely to be the most often repeated phrases in Orange County. North Carolina is one of only two states where voters cannot indicate their presidential preference by marking a straight ticket. It is also one of a dwindling number of tightly contested states in the race between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain. Two recent polls show Obama with a slight edge, but within the margin of error.

In 2004, George Bush won the state by 12 percent.

A competitive race in a historic year has driven up turnout.

Nearly 3 percent of the registered voters in Orange County lined up to cast their ballots on the first day of early voting last Thursday. Since then, voters have kept up a similar pace, with 15,652 completed ballots at the close of business Tuesday night for the county’s five early-voting sites.

Those numbers mirror the early-voting turnout statewide. Close to 215,000 North Carolinians cast their ballots on the first day.

On Wednesday, elections director Tracy Reams said that with 10 more days to go in the early-voting period, 2008 looks like it will easily top the 30,245 early votes cast in 2004.

“I think we’re on track to beat that,” she said. So far, Reams said the four early-voting sites haven’t reported any major glitches.

Tuesday evening figures show that a total of 5,669 ballots have been cast at Morehead Planetarium, 3,634 at Carrboro Town Hall, 3,390 at the Orange County Public Library in Hillsborough, 2,587 at the Seymour Senior Center and 373 at the Northern Human Services Center.

Reams said she’s been disappointed that the turnout at the northern site, located north of Hillsborough on N.C. 86, has been so slow.

“It’s our newest site,” she said. “We’re hoping that as the word spreads, things will start picking up.”

Voting remained brisk all day at Carrboro Town Hall.

Trish Verne, chief judge at the precinct, predicted a record turnout and said that so far the process has gone smoothly, save some computer problems early on.

“I have a nice staff to work with. People have been very cooperative and it’s going pretty good,” she said. “We had some issues with computers at the beginning but those are worked out now. Things are running smoothly.”

Several voters said this year seems different.

“I feel like it’s essential now, more than ever, for people to take part in their country’s future,” said C.J. Suitt, an independent from Carrboro.

“I think this is the most exciting election I’ve ever voted in, and I’ve been voting for 40 years,” Susan Spalt, a Carrboro Democrat, said. “Marianne Wright Edelman said, ‘We should vote as if a third-grade class was watching us.’ I think we all have to vote as if the next couple of generations are watching us.”

Reams said election officials have added even more voters to the rolls this week with batches of mailed registrations arriving at the elections office Tuesday, as post offices were closed Monday.

As of Wednesday, the county has 104,271 registered voters, with 55,260 Democrats, 19,731 Republicans, 29,185 unaffiliated and 95 Libertarians.

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  1. Saxxon Domela

    High marks to North Carolina for having a smooth voting system. It is the right of every American to be able to vote for the candidate of their choice in a manner that is neither time consuming or difficult to manage. Well done North Carolina!

  2. ManWeaver

    Yes, my vote for McCain and Palin, and against David Price and Arrowood went very smoothly. Kudos to Orange County for making early voting easy!