Here is data from the fourth week since that start of voting in North Carolina.
Absentee requests continue to climb
The total number of requests as of Sunday, October 5 stands at 1,204,102 (see figure 1 for trendline) according to data from the NC State Board of Elections (SBE). That includes 577,742 Democrats, 225,834 Republicans, and 401,397 unaffiliated. We are still on pace to get as many as 1.6 million absentee ballot requests this election. Expect week forty (the latest week since absentee ballots requests were first processed), which currently stands at 75,602, to increase by tens of thousands as counties update their numbers.
The pace of absentee ballot returns declines
As seen at the Civitas Institute’s Vote Tracker, 359,490 absentee ballots have been accepted as of yesterday. That represents about 7.2% of the roughly five million votes expected in the 2020 election in North Carolina. The 100,985 ballots added this week represents a decline from the 125,308 ballots added last week (see figure 2 for a visual representation).
As can be seen in figure 3, Democrats continue to returned ballots at a higher rate than have Republican or unaffiliated voters. As of October 4, 32.7% of the absentee ballots requested by Democrats have been returned and accepted compared to 27.0% for Republicans and 26.9% for unaffiliated voters.
Voter registration trends start to look more normal
As we have seen at the Civitas Voter Registration Changes webpage, Republicans continue to outgain Democrats in net registration changes, with a 12,033-10,107 advantage this week. However, for the first time since September 5, the net gain in unaffiliated registrations (12,713) surpassed those of Republicans. There has been a net increase of 37,281 Republicans, 34,397 unaffiliated voters, and 25,216 Democrats (see figure 4) since September 5, the day after absentee ballots were first mailed out.
The net gain in registrations is much greater than during a similar time in 2016 (September 10 to October 8), when Democrats barely out-registered Republicans 15,458 to 15,197 with an increase of 34,210 unaffiliated voters.
How many North Carolinians will vote absentee-by-mail this year?
[D]espite all the discussion of mail balloting over the past several weeks, available data does not support Brinson Bell’s belief that 30%-40% of North Carolina voters will vote by mail this year.
So who will be proven correct?
The unsatisfactory answer is probably neither.
As previously noted in this post, North Carolina is on pace to have about 1.6 million absentee ballot requests in this election. If every voter who requested an absentee ballot voted that ballot, that would represent about 32% of the roughly five million ballots that will be cast in North Carolina this year.
However, as Catawba College Political Science Professor Michael Bitzer has pointed out, around 85% of absentee ballots requested are returned and accepted. If that average holds for this year, then about 1.36 million ballots, or 27.2% of all ballots, will be cast absentee this year.
Of course, that percentage could move up or down. After the rush to request absentee ballots in August and September, enthusiasm for voting by mail seems to have cooled somewhat. In May, August, and September, voters were asked in Harper/Civitas polls (question 14 on page 6) how they planned to vote. In the poll released on May 29, 14% said that they planned to vote by mail. That rose to 23% in the poll released on August 10 but declined slightly to 20% in the poll released on September 20. Because of problems associated with mail voting, Democrats across the county are starting to encourage voting in person. That may push the return and acceptance rate below the 85% average for North Carolina.
So, while there are many factors that can change the final total, it currently looks like the proportion of accepted North Carolina ballots that are returned by mail will be somewhere between 23% and 28%.