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Primary delay causes anticipation

North Carolina's partisan primary elections originally scheduled for May 7 will finally take place Tuesday, almost seven months after a controversial redistricting was overturned by the state Superior Court.

Over 32,000 votes have already been cast since the state instituted a "one-stop, no-excuse" early voting policy opening 124 polls throughout the state from Aug. 22 through Sept. 7. Voters are electing their parties' candidates for Congress, the General Assembly and other local positions.

In March, after Republicans claimed the new legislative district map split too many counties into different districts, the state Supreme Court ordered that the primaries not proceed as scheduled until the voting-district issue was resolved. The final map passed July 12.

Despite the resolved map issues, election officials are uncertain the primary will see a high voter turnout.

"It is my fervent hope that [the delayed primary] increases the turnout, though most are predicting it will continue the downward trend," said Bill Cobey, chair of the North Carolina Republican Party. "I think that would be a tragedy since the [Sept. 11] anniversary is the next day. If that isn't a wake-up call to the importance of exercising our rights as citizens, I don't know what is."

Barbara Allen, chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party echoed Cobey. "We talk about being patriotic," she said. "This is a great chance to get out and show your patriotism."

Though this is the first time the early voting initiative has been implemented in a primary election, Allen said it should increase participation. "[Early voting] is a great thing," she said. "I think it will catch on once people see how convenient it is."

Cobey said his party, however, does not support the concept of early voting.

"It's a terrible waste of money and it's sad to see," he said.

Michael Ashe, director of the Durham Board of Elections, said early voting has cost the county a budgeted $30,000. Durham county has had three polling sites open on weekdays, four on Saturdays and one on Sundays.

Other officials, however, do not expect early voting to overcome the effect of a late primary election.

"Anytime there is a change from what is normal, participation is down," said Gary Bartlett, the State Board of Elections director.

Most Durham citizens said the date change did not affect their decision to vote or who they would vote for. Durham resident D.C. Rhyne, who participated in early voting in the state's last general election, said he is not sure the late primary has changed his vote. "I usually wait until the time of the election comes close before making my decisions so I can't say [my vote] has changed," he said.

Bartlett said the late primary will impact more than just turnout. "Usually when we have lower turnout in elections strange things happen," he said. "Often, dark horse or underdog candidates win. No one can say it's good or bad. It's just part of the process."

Cobey noted the later date may impact the general election more than the primary.

"Given the shorter time frame, it will give whoever the Democrats [nominate] as a candidate for Senate less time to campaign," he said.

Analysts consider Elizabeth Dole a lock for the Republican nomination this Tuesday. In the more competitive Democratic race, Erskine Bowles, Dan Blue and Elaine Marshall are among the more competitive candidates.

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