Nearly 2.55 million people went to the polls during the early voting period that ended Saturday, according to the latest figures available from the State Board of Elections. These numbers aren't final. Board staff will continue to update them. See a breakdown below.
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Republican Pat McCrory continued his moderate transformation during Wednesday's debate, shedding his tea party and conservative cape as he said legislation restricting abortions and cracking down on illegal immigration won't appear on his agenda if elected. At the same time, Democrat Walter Dalton made a bold pledge to lower the employment rate as much as 3 percent in his first year. Pundits say the debate isn't the game changer Dalton needed. Read more here and see four fact checks from the debate.
More political headlines:
--In a new development that raises questions about Debra Goldman's judgment, another police report surfaced showing that the GOP state auditor candidate called 911 after a fellow board member yelled at her during a heated Wake school board meeting.
With persistent long lines, state election officials are asking counties to consider extending the early voting times and days.
"The wait time at some sites is as long as 2 hours. County Boards should take immediate steps to alleviate these delays and facilitate a more efficient voting process for North Carolina voters," wrote Gary Bartlett, the state's elections chief, in a memorandum sent Monday to all 100 county boards of elections.
North Carolina's primary election is getting started this week. Today is the first day voters can request absentee ballots for the May 8 primary. The primary is 50 days away and early voting starts in 31 days. Here's a few other important dates:
April 13: Final day to change party affiliation and register to vote for primary. (Voters can also register at one-stop early voting.)
April 19: Early voting begins.
May 1: Final day to request absentee ballots in writing (except for illness or disability).
May 5: Final day for early voting.
May 8: Primary day. Polls close at 7:30 p.m.
A bipartisan group of North Carolina election officials is urging Republican lawmakers to unfreeze $4 million in federal money that they say is necessary to accommodate a large voter turnout and ensure the integrity of the 2012 ballot.
Democracy North Carolina, a liberal-leaning election advocacy group, issued a memorandum that puts a potential stalemate in stark terms: "North Carolina could become the next Florida." Read more here.
The Democratic governor's race is off to a rocky start for former Congressman Bob Etheridge. Read more about it here.
And read more from the Associated Press about the legal wrangling about redistricting after the court's ruling Tuesday.
In Wake County, control of the school board rests in one run-off election schedule for November. As pundits suggested to columnist Rob Christensen in this morning's analysis of the local races, it could be "a mega race."
Given the attention on Wake County's school diversity policy -- and Democrats' interest in the state ahead of the 2012 election -- the race is likely to get significant attention.
Democrats nearly swept local races with a high-dollar get-out-the-vote effort that boosted early voting-- a microcosm of what the party will need to repeat victory on a statewide basis a year from now. Will this only reinvigorate the GOP-controlled N.C. General Assembly to limit early voting, and stem the blue tide?
Read more analysis on the broader implications of the local races and use the comment section to offer your own punditry.
Potentially sweeping changes to state election laws introduced Tuesday, just days before the legislature is scheduled to adjourn, failed to clear a key House committee when the Republican chairman failed to count heads before calling for a vote.
When it became clear there were not enough Republicans in the room to carry the measure, Chairman David Lewis voted with the Democrats against his own amendment so that he could be on the prevailing side. Under House rules, that will allow Lewis to hold reconsideration vote later tonight or Wednesday, when there will presumably be enough Republicans in the room to push the measure through to a vote on the House floor.
"Quite frankly, I just miscounted," said Lewis, a farm-equipment dealer from Dunn, moments after his proposed changes failed 10-13.
As introduced in the House committee Tuesday evening, Senate Bill 47 pulls together elements of several Republican-backed measures that Democrats said are designed to hold-down voter turnout, especially among low-income and elderly voters.
"It stinks," said Bob Hall, the executive director of Democracy North Carolina. "It's a stinker. It should sink to the bottom. It's a conglomeration of things to make voting harder."
The bill, as proposed in the House committee Tuesday, would:
— End public financing for council of state races.
— End non-partisan judicial races and introduce partisan primaries for judges.
— Make it a crime to accept pay to work as part of a voter registration drive.
— Cut the period for early, one-stop voting by one week.
— Repeal straight-ticket voting.
— Allows corporations to make donations directly to political parties for "headquarters funds."
Lewis said the corporate money would be limited to paying for party headquarters buildings and maintenance. But clean elections advocates and Democrats said the provision, as written, would allow corporate money to pay for such party functions as polling, hiring campaign consultants and such "voter education" efforts as direct mail and media advertising.
No public comment was allowed during Tuesday's meeting.
Asked why, after the legislature has been in session for more than four months, fundamental changes were being added at the last minute, Lewis said canceled committee meetings and member absences had caused delays.
"I share everyone's frustration," the committee chairman said. "I wish there was a better way."
Hall said the last-minute nature of the changes were intended to limit the time opponents had to organize.
"The Republicans promised to run this place differently," he said. "They promised transparency. Unfortunately, it does look like they're doing the same things they complained for years about Democrats doing."
Voters appear more interested in casting early ballots this year than they have in previous mid-term elections.
By Sunday evening, more than 347,000 people had voted at one-stop sites, according to the State Board of Elections.
In the 2006 general election, about 375,000 people cast one-stop ballots. Voters are on track to easily surpass that number by the time early voting ends Saturday.
So far, ballots from registered Democrats outnumber Republicans'. Democrats are responsible for about 44 percent of the turnout so far. Republicans are 38 percent and unaffiliated voters about 17 percent.
Nearly 7 percent of white registered voters have cast early ballots, and about 5 percent of black voters have voted at one-stop sites.
According to an early voting site sponsored by Civitas, more women than men have cast one-stop ballots. In the first few days of early voting, men were leading.
The average early voter's age has dropped to 60 from 61.
Participation is heaviest in Mecklenburg, but Wake, which expanded its one-stop sites late last week, has jumped to second place.
After reviewing the election laws and practices of 10 swing states, Common Cause has judged that North Carolina has the greatest number of laws and practices that are helpful to voters and to fair elections, Rob Christensen reports.
“The stakes are high this year with the struggle for power in the state legislature at a tipping point,” said Bob Phillips, director of Common Cause North Carolina. “The rules of the game need to be fair and need to be enforced. Our report shows that North Carolina is doing well in many areas but there is also room for improvement.”
The national Common Cause group looked at election laws and practices in Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, and Ohio as well as North Carolina.
Among other things, Common Cause liked North Carolina's early voting, efforts to work with state agencies to increase voter registration, the lack of state-imposed voter ID laws, laws against voter suppression, and that provisional ballots are counted if cast in the correct county, but the wrong precinct.
On the downside, Common Cause thought the state's voter challenge law was too expansive, that voting rights were not restored to felons until after they had finished parole or probation, and that there is not enough out reach by election officials to Spanish-speaking voters.
It's official: The November election is over.
The State Board of Elections signed off Tuesday on the results, approving the numbers in a canvass that brought no objections.
Elections director Gary Bartlett said that the board usually hears up to 10 election concerns, but there were no protests and the only pending issue had already been investigated.
"Zero issues — it doesn't get any better than that," he said.
He attributed the quiet to luck and training. Two candidates for school board in Nash County were inadvertently left off the ballot, but they had no opposition.
Two potential trouble spots turned out to be non-issues: The high volume of voters and the tricky "straight-ticket" ballot.
Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina said he'd like to expand early voting, which was a success. (AP)