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The Party Line is dedicated to examining regional issues and policies through the figures who give shape to them. These are critical, complex, and even downright confusing times we live in. There’s a lot to navigate nationally and in the Carolinas; whether it’s elections, debates on gay marriage, public school closings, or tax incentives for economic development. The Party Line’s goal is to offer a provocative, intelligent look at the issues and players behind the action; a view that ultimately offers the necessary insight for Carolina voters to hold public servants more accountable.

Republican Lawmakers, McCrory Take A Bite Out Of Early Voting

With much of the discussion of the massive election law revisions coming to North Carolina, many have described the legislation as the “most sweeping voting changes in the country.” 

One aspect of the legislation that has drawn particular focus of the media and analysts is the seven-day reduction in the number of early voting days.

In some of the stinging criticisms regarding the law, Democrats and liberal groups deride the elimination of the first seven days of early voting period, saying that the reduction would have an adverse impact on minority voters. 

In studying the number of ballots cast in both 2008 and 2012, it is easy to see that early voting, and especially the first seven days of early ballots cast, did favor certain groups over others.

In terms of all the days of in-person early voting in 2008 and 2012, white voters made up two-thirds of the ballots cast, while black voters were 29% of the early ballots cast.

But when you isolate just the first seven days in 2008 and 2012, black voters were one-third of all the ballots cast in each election.  In 2008, white voters were 64% of the voters casting ballots in the first week, and 62% in 2012.

At first glance, this might not appear a huge difference, but it does show that black voters represented a greater percentage of early votes: once you get past the first seven days of 2012’s early voting, black voters were 27% of the early ballots, while whites were 68%.  

And if you consider that whites made up 71% of the registered voters while black voters were 25%, it appears that black voters made the most of not just early voting, but the first seven days of early voting in both 2008 and 2012. 

In terms of a partisan favoritism in early voting, Democrats had a distinct advantage in early ballots cast in both 2008 and 2012, although Republicans learned their lesson from 2008 and came out earlier in 2012.

If you look at the all early ballots cast in both years, Democrats in 2008 and 2012 had a distinct advantage; Republicans did show up in greater numbers and percentage in 2012, however.

But when it came to the first seven days of early balloting, Democrats were significantly more of the ballots cast, with 60% of the 2008 ballots and 53% of the 2012 ballots. 

So eliminating the first week of early voting in 2016, based on the past two presidential election cycles, could either force anywhere from 705,000 to 903,000 voters into the remaining days. 

And when it comes to dispensing with the first seven days of early voting, if one uses both 2008 and 2012 as indicators, both Democratic voters and black voters were more likely to be part of that early wave of voters coming to the polls.

On the day that Governor Pat McCrory signed the legislation into law, Public Policy Polling, a Democratic polling firm, released a poll finding that only 33% of North Carolina registered voters favor cutting the first week of early voting, with both Democratic and independent voters strongly opposed. 

Advocates point out that, even though the number of days is reduced, the legislation still requires that counties have the same number of early-voting hours as they offered in 2012.

The early voting period of 2016 will be a critical test to see whether the advantage that Democrats and black voters had in getting to the polls early will hold.

Dr. Michael Bitzer is an associate professor of politics and history at Catawba College, where he also serves as the 2011-2012 Swink Professor for Excellence in Classroom Teaching and the chair of the department of history & politics. A native South Carolinian, he holds graduate degrees in both history and political science from Clemson University and The University of Georgiaââ