Hopkins: Expect ‘low turnout’

Published 1:49 pm Friday, April 30, 2010

Staff Writer

Beaufort County’s elections director advised her audience to expect a “very low turnout” at the polls in Tuesday’s primary election.
“Normally, 20 percent of the vote in a primary is good,” said Kellie Harris Hopkins, “and that hurts my heart, and it hurts your tax dollar.”
Historically, turnout is lower in a midterm election year, when no presidential or gubernatorial contest is on the ballot, Hopkins told the Beaufort County Democratic Women at a meeting in Washington.
Hopkins routinely delivers nonpartisan, election-related speeches to civic and political groups. Early in the year, she addressed the Beaufort County Republican Men’s Club.
On Wednesday night, Hopkins told her latest audience that, of more than 31,000 registered voters in Beaufort County, just 946 had marked ballots so far in the one-stop, no-excuse absentee voting period.
Her numbers were current as of 5 p.m. Wednesday.
Of those 946 voters, 597 had cast Democratic ballots and 341 had cast Republican ballots, she related.
That information brought a few sighs and whistles from a crowd that seemed uncertain about how many unaffiliated voters had requested Democratic ballots.
In North Carolina, the two major political parties allow unaffiliated voters to participate in their primaries, Hopkins pointed out.
This practice worries party stalwarts on both sides, with some of them saying that unaffiliated voters can make mischief in the parties’ nominating process.
Unaffiliated voters may request a GOP ballot or a Democratic ballot, they or may select a nonpartisan ballot that lists judicial races to the exclusion of officially partisan bouts, Hopkins noted.
The one-stop period began April 15 and ends Saturday. The Beaufort County Board of Elections will be open from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. Saturday to accommodate one-stop voters.
Though this year’s primary turnout is projected to be well off 2008 totals, the Board of Elections and its staff “have to prepare for 100-percent turnout,” Hopkins said.
That preparation entails printing more than 31,000 ballots and taking other measures to prepare for the election as if turnout-tied optimism ruled the day, she indicated — even if just 20 percent of all registered voters show up.
Sounding a high note, Hopkins added that, though this election season has been relatively quiet in Beaufort County, at least one battle seems to be drawing interest — the District Court race pitting four local candidates against one another.
“The judicial race is what I hear the most about,” she said.
She added that the buzz is probably being generated by the fact that all four candidates — Watsi Sutton, Sonia Privette, Darrell Cayton Jr. and Jonathan Jones — are from Beaufort County.
Those four judge candidates are running in the 2nd Judicial District, which encompasses Hyde, Martin, Tyrrell, Beaufort and Washington counties.
Hopkins also told her audience that one-stop voting has moved up candidates’ campaign fusillades, resulting in earlier attempts to influence voters.
“I’ve seen, in the last four years, a real change in the way the candidates are campaigning,” she said.
Pointing to the growth of the method over the past few years, she predicted that more people will take advantage of one-stop voting in future elections.