The green flag for the 2020 race for President truly drops on Friday as the state of North Carolina starts sending out absentee ballots to voters, as worries over the Coronavirus outbreak have prompted over 600,000 people to already request a ballot for November, over 16 times the level at the same point in 2016.
So far, many more Democrats than Republicans have requested mail ballots in the Tar Heel State, but elections experts warn against making conclusions with two months until Election Day.
“I would not read anything into the partisan registration advantage that Democrats currently have (53%) over Republicans (16%) other than high voter interest and enthusiasm to cast their ballots,” said Dr. Michael Bitzer, a professor of politics and history at Catawba College in North Carolina.
“The biggest question I have is: how fast do these ballots, mailed out (Friday), come back and are accepted?” Bitzer told me. “Once that data is published, we can then start to see how these voters have cast ballots in the past.”
The increase in the use of mail ballots in North Carolina is striking - as some counties are up over 400 percent from four years ago, with larger jurisdictions like Mecklenburg County (Charlotte) already showing 11 percent of all registered voters asking for a ballot.
22 counties in North Carolina have already tripled their total request for mail ballots from 2016 - with the elections still two months away.
“11 of the 21 counties w/the biggest increase in (absentee ballot) requests v. 2016 were won by Trump in 2016,” tweeted Chris Cooper, a political science professor at Western Carolina University.
It’s not only North Carolina where there are big numbers for mail ballot requests - Wisconsin is close to 1 million, Illinois has over 1.2 million requests, Pennsylvania is at 1.8 million, Florida is well over 2 million - much of it because of worries over the Coronavirus.
For North Carolina will be alone in sending out actual ballots for November, but starting in just over two weeks, another two dozen other states will start sending out their requested absentee / mail-in ballots to voters.
The first mailing of ballots in North Carolina comes two days after President Donald Trump stirred controversy by suggesting that voters first submit a mail-in ballot - and then later show up at the polls to possibly vote again.
State elections officials did not appreciate the President’s suggestion, telling voters it is a felony to try to double vote.
“DOUBLE VOTING IS ILLEGAL,” the message read in all caps on the website of the state elections board.
An estimated 26 percent of all ballots cast in 2016 used mail ballots - whether absentee-by-mail or regular vote-by-mail.
Because of the Coronavirus, that number is expected to dramatically surge in 2020.