WNC voters step to the plate
Temperatures dropped on Election Day, with high elevation snowflakes and low-lying raindrops greeting voters around Western North Carolina, making for low voter turnout trailing that of 2008.
With troves of citizens opting for early voting — more than half those who voted in the election did so during the early voting period — “slow but steady” became the mantra of poll workers Tuesday, occasionally left wondering where everyone was.
Regardless, there was still plenty of electioneering left to do.
At the Waynesville library voting site, campaigners of every political persuasions stood patiently in a slight, freezing drizzle, holding up signs, handing out flyers and striking up conversation with those either curious or willing to talk for a moment.
Standing outside under his umbrella since 6 a.m., Western Carolina University student Matthew Campbell, 22, planned to stick to his post until the polls closed. He had two Democratic stickers plastered across his jacket, one for Hayden Rogers (running for U.S. Congress) and the other for Joe Sam Queen (running for N.C. House).
“I don’t know if this weather is affecting voter turnout, but it’s been pretty slow,” he said.
A few feet away, Waynesville resident Scott Stump, 46, a small business owner, passed out fliers and held a sign for Republican Mark Meadows — who ultimately won the race for U.S. Congress.
“I’ve got two children and their future depends on this election,’” Stump said. “I’m doing this for them and not me.”
Given the popularity of early voting, electioneering is no longer left to Election Day but instead requires a massive mobilization of volunteers to man a plethora of early voting sites for a two-and-a-half week stretch.
Across the region, early voting polling sites were packed with campaign volunteers, party loyalists, as well as friends and family of candidates, pumping their signs, smiling and waving to voters, who in turn were forced to walk a gauntlet of political paraphernalia.
But, the last-minute literature can be very helpful. “Cheat sheets” passed out by both Republicans and Democrats contained a sample ballot denoting the party’s preferred candidates, especially on obscure judge’s races or elected state offices.
Being out there for such long stretches, day in and day out, volunteers from both sides of the aisle ended up making friends.
Remy Bohleber, a diehard Democratic volunteer, was at the early voting site in Waynesville almost every day, all day.
“I’ve had the Republican electioneer buy me coffee and vice-versa,” he said.
The volunteers got so friendly that if one or the other had to go to the bathroom, they would babysit the sample ballots of the opposing camp and hand it out to the requisite voters. In fact, when voters walked by, they would often offer their literature in tandem, simply presenting both choices.
“If they are going to vote conservative, they take mine. And if they want to vote Democrat I tell them to ‘Take his.’” said Shirley Carlson, an early voting site Tea Party volunteer in Haywood County, flanking Bohleber.
Adding a silver lining to a muddy year of politics, a couple who arrived at the Jackson County courthouse last week to get married found themselves in the throes of early voting. It wasn’t their lucky day, however, because the pair was absent two witnesses to make the ceremony official.
Not to worry, though, because Republican Party volunteer Jim Mueller took a break from his booth, as did his Democratic counterpart, to stand in for the couple.
For many campaign volunteers manning the polls, the election was too important to sit out.
“I feel obligated to do my part,” said Bob Williams, a volunteer handing out a sample ballot flagged with conservative picks at the polling site in Canton.
That sense of obligation carried over to the voters on Election Day, who didn’t let the rain and cold deter them.
A proud lifelong voter, Joy Larkin, 67, boasted to have once casted a ballot while in child labor, seeing as it was that important of a right to her. Exiting a Waynesville voting site on Election Day, she said she was more relieved than normal to have finally cast her ballot this year.
“I’m just glad it’s over,” she chuckled, heading for her car.
While more people ultimately voted during the two-and-a-half week early voting run than on Election Day itself, for some, the convenience of early voting doesn’t outweigh the thrill of visiting the polls on the big day.
“We usually vote on Election Day. Everybody’s down here and the excitement of the whole thing,” said Roger Patterson, the manager of Waynesville’s water plant.
It was even more exciting than normal, seeing as Patterson got to witness his 19-year-old son vote in his first presidential election.
By sunset on Election Day, most polling sites were so deserted that tumbleweeds could have been rolling through. While skies got darker, and the air cooler, candidates and their supporters sized up the ever-diminishing string of voters, ultimately packing up their signs and brochures early.
It’s after 6 p.m., and Campbell is still in front of the Waynesville library. He’s been standing outside the building for more than 12 hours. Without even leaving to eat, he’s stayed put until the polls officially closed. He watched the final stragglers during what should normally be an after-work rush and admitted turnout was disappointing.
“It’s not seemed like a lot,” he said. “I think the weather honestly had a lot to do with it.”