In North Carolina, November 5 will be almost as important as November 8. On Saturday, the 17-day window for early voting closes. Early voting in the state has so far outpaced early voting in 2012 and 2008, and the final tallies of early votes could portend a winner well before election night. The math is simple: If overall early turnout numbers increase over 2012 and 2008, and Clinton maintains a larger lead than Obama’s 56 percent in 2012 among early voters, North Carolina will be a tough state for Democrats to lose come election day.
Despite the fact that early-voting appears to be on pace to set turnout records, there is evidence that one outcome Democrats feared—and that Republicans have engineered—might be coming to pass. After a years-long fight over voting rights, and last-minute political maneuvering by several counties, the North Carolina data group insightus reports that black turnout in the first week of early voting has been depressed relative to 2012, though it has begun to swing upward in the second week. Any slippage among this group could indicate that the historic gains in black turnout in 2008 and 2012 are in danger.
As my colleague Brentin Mock notes, there are several possible explanations for black turnout lagging at this stage in early voting, and not all of them necessarily indicate crisis. The entire state has been dealing with chaos in the wake of the Fourth Circuit Court’s decision to nullify the state’s HB 589 voting law. That decision re-established the full 17-day early-voting period from before the law, but also forced counties to figure out how to provide polling places for an extra week on short notice.