North Carolina voters are deciding whether to put a Republican in the Executive Mansion for the first time in 20 years and if President Barack Obama could turn a narrow victory four years ago in the state into a Democratic winning streak.
Voting began Tuesday morning at more than 2,700 precincts statewide, building upon more than 2.7 million ballots already cast through mail-in absentee voting and in-person early voting that ended last weekend.
Poll workers reported few problems during the morning, and none of them disrupted voting for long. Several precincts had machines that didn't boot up properly, and law enforcement quickly determined a bomb threat to three unspecified Cumberland County precincts was a hoax, State Board of Elections Executive Director Gary Bartlett said.
It was a cold and cloudy Election Day across the state, but turnout was steady. "There's been snow reported in the mountains, but that has not deterred voters," Bartlett said.
Fewer than half the votes this election were expected to be cast on Election Day, but get-out-the-vote efforts remained critical to tens of thousands of volunteers for Obama and for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Obama hoped for a repeat performance in North Carolina, where he won by about 14,000 votes over John McCain in 2008 in putting the state in the Democratic column for the first time since 1976. While Obama's campaign essentially never left the state after the win, Republicans assembled its own large-scale voter contact program in recent months. Romney's path to the presidency needs a North Carolina victory more than Obama's possible routes.
Voters supporting Romney outside the polls appeared more motivated in 2012 than supporters of John McCain were in 2008. Voice-over talent Pat Crosswhite, 55, of Holly Springs called the Obama administration divisive. She said she held her nose and voted for John McCain in 2008, but was much more excited about a vote for Romney and against Obama this year at the Wake County Firearms Education & Training Center in Apex.
"I think it would be disastrous," Crosswhite said of a possible second Obama term. "I think what he started is terrible. I don't want him to finish it."
The top statewide race was for governor, where Republican Pat McCrory sought to become the first GOP chief executive since Jim Martin left office in early 1993. The former Charlotte mayor lost in 2008 to Democrat Beverly Perdue, but she decided not to run this year and Democratic Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton became the nominee.
McCrory's name recognition and fundraising advantage helped him push his platform of fixing what he calls a government and economy broken by Democratic leaders in Raleigh. Dalton, who planned to visit polling places in Greensboro, Durham and Raleigh, said McCrory's ideas on education and the economy are shallow and would harm middle-class families. McCrory scheduled a stop Tuesday for a Charlotte voting precinct. Libertarian Barbara Howe also was running for governor.
Irene Jones voted for Dalton, although the 57-year-old pastor and bus driver from Zebulon was much more excited about voting for Obama again. She said the men running for governor never got her interested in the race.
"I couldn't tell a lot of difference. I'm OK with either one of them winning. I'm just going to pray that they do a good job once they get into office," Jones said.
North Carolina voters also were poised to elect a new lieutenant governor and seven members of the Council of State, all 13 members of the state's U.S. House delegation and the 170 members of the Legislature. They also will pick a justice on the Supreme Court, three Court of Appeals judges and scores of county commissioners and local bond issues.
The Supreme Court race between incumbent Paul Newby and Court of Appeals Judge Sam Ervin IV was marked by several outside groups that backed Newby collecting at least $2 million for television ads and mailers. While officially nonpartisan, an Ervin win would mean four of the seven justices are Democratic by voter registration. The state's highest court would remain 4-3 Republican with a Newby victory. The court is expected to hear redistricting litigation in the near future.
Civil rights and election reform groups said they would intensify efforts to watch polls Tuesday for voter intimidation, suppression and deliberate misinformation.
The state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People wrote U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, state Attorney General Roy Cooper and another state agency leader asking them to order law enforcement to visit selected voter sites to maintain order. Cooper told the state NAACP in a response that State Bureau of Investigation agents and attorneys in his office were on standby should the state elections board request assistance.
Bartlett said he expected overall voter turnout to be about 69 percent, or slightly less than the 69.53 percent — rounded to 70 percent — turnout in North Carolina in 2008 and was a record for recent North Carolina history.