The first Saturday of early voting for North Carolina’s 2024 primary elections saw a slight increase in turnout over the 2020 primaries, with more unaffiliated voters opting to take Republican ballots over Democrat, according to NCSBE data collected by Early voting kicked off this past Thursday, Feb. 15 and will continue until March 2. There are 360 early voting sites across the state’s 100 counties. 

“The first Saturday of early voting typically sees a significant drop compared to weekdays,” said Jim Stirling, research fellow at the John Locke Foundation’s Civitas Center for Public Integrity. “This trend continues this year with slightly higher participation than in the prior two primary elections. Nearly 7,500 votes were received on Saturday, just above the nearly 7 thousand first Saturday voters in the 2020 primary.”

As of February 2024, unaffiliated voters are the largest percentage of North Carolina voters at 36.82%. Registered Democrats represent 32.36%, with Republican at 30.02% of the electorate. Unaffiliated voters took the lead over Democrats as the state’s largest voter group before the midterm primaries in March of 2022. 

unaffiliated voters

Because North Carolina is a semi-closed primary state, unaffiliated voters must choose between a Republican or Democrat ballot during the primary elections.

Historically, North Carolina Democrats have had higher participation in early voting than Republicans. This year is no exception, but Stirling says the state’s large unaffiliated vote will have critical impact, as it has in past elections.

“While Democrats are going out and voting at a slightly higher rate than Republicans, unaffiliated voters are currently taking more Republican ballots,” said Stirling.

In 2022, Democrats also had an advantage in early voting turnout over Republicans with 233,172 to 189,962, but 62% of unaffiliated voters chose a Republican ballot during the early voting period.  During the 2022 midterms Republican Ted Budd ended up winning over Democrat Cheri Beasley 51% to 47% for North Carolina’s U.S. Senate seat left open by the retirement of Sen. Richard Burr, R-NC. Republicans were also able to shift the N.C. Supreme Court from leaning 4 to 3 Democrat to 5 to 2 Republican. 

While Republicans may have seen some benefit from a large number of unaffiliated voters choosing Republican ballots during the primaries, they fell one seat short of a supermajority in the N.C. House with 71 of the 120 seats in 2022. 

Same-day voter registration

Fewer than half of states, 21 and the District of Columbia, offer same-day voter registration. North Carolina is among those that offer it, but unlike the other states, same day registration in North Carolina is only allowed during the early voting period, not on Election Day. The NCSBE requires a photo ID and proof of address to register. After registering, NCSBE officials begin the process of verifying the registrant’s driver’s license or Social Security number, update the voter registration database, and verify their address by mail.

The NCSBE posts a list of early voting sites across the state. Among them, Talley Student Union on NC State’s campus in Raleigh is an early voting site and open to the public.

NC State’s Talley Student Union serves as an early voting site for the 2024 primary election. Source: Brayden Marsh, Carolina Journal.

“Until March 2, eligible students can vote early in the North Carolina primary at Talley Student Union,” wrote Vice Chancellor Doneka Scott in a letter to the NC State community. “Our Pack the Polls initiative is here to help NC State student voters navigate the upcoming election.”

Although Talley is a voting site for early voting, it is not a voting site for the primary Election Day on March 5.

“It’s harder to justify not voting when it’s on the way to class,” said Quin Powell, a political science major at NC State. “I believe the next closest voting site is around five miles from campus. An early voting location in the middle of campus will lead to much more students participating in the primary elections this year.”

Valid forms of photo ID for early voting include: Student IDs, NC driver’s license, state IDs, military IDs, free voter IDs from County Boards of Elections, and tribal enrollment cards with photo.