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Early voting ends Saturday

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bob Etheridge (right) chats with area resident Archie Harding during a campaign stop Friday at Frank’s Pizza in Washington. The heavy turnout here has prompted visits from some candidates during the last days of early voting. (WDN Photo/Betty Mitchell Gray)

Candidates make last-minute campaign push for votes prior to Tuesday’s primary

The last days of early voting in the primary elections in Beaufort County are attracting large numbers of voters and some candidates who are seeking those votes.

As of Friday around noon, 1,986 Beaufort County voters had cast ballots in early voting at the Beaufort County Board of Elections headquarters off of Highland Drive, an increase of 151 from Thursday’s ending count.

Elections officials predict an even heavier turnout Saturday, when early voting in the county ends at 1 p.m.

Heavy early voting — prompted by a constitutional amendment and a referendum on a local sales-tax proposition — has attracted candidates seeking voter support to the polls.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bob Etheridge stopped at the Board of Elections headquarters to chat with voters before making a campaign stop at Frank’s Pizza in Washington on Friday.

Etheridge said eastern North Carolina is particularly important to the Democratic candidates not only in the May primary election but also in the Nov. 6 general election as well.

“Eastern North Carolina is the key to a Democratic victory in November and always has been,” he said in an interview. “No Democrat has become governor without carrying eastern North Carolina in modern times.”

Etheridge noted that early voter turnout has been heavy at all of his campaign stops.

That heavy turnout, combined with some particularly tight campaigns for the state Legislature, has prompted several Republican candidates to withstand the recent heat wave to stump for votes in Beaufort County outside the Board of Elections headquarters.

Jeremy D. Adams, a candidate for the N.C. House of Representatives from the 6th District, said he opted to solicit votes in Beaufort County instead of his home in Dare County because of the number of voters going to the polls here.

On Friday, he was joined outside the polls by two other GOP candidates — Bill Cook, seeking a seat in the state Senate, and state-auditor candidate Greg Dority — drawn by the large turnout.

“We’re predicting a large number of voters going to the polls here,” Dority, a Beaufort County resident, said. “There are some candidates in very tight races and every vote will count.”

Voters may mark ballots at the Board of Elections offices from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.

After that, voters will have to wait until the polls open Tuesday to vote.

In addition to a slate of national, state and local races, Beaufort County voters are marking ballots to show their positions on a proposed amendment to the state constitution and a sales-tax proposition.

State and local elections officials have said interest in the proposed constitutional amendment, also known as the marriage amendment, is driving interest in early voting this year.

Statewide, turnout is on a pace to exceed that of any primary election since the state implemented one-stop voting in 2000, according to recent news reports and state elections figures.

The first week of one-stop voting statewide surpassed the first week in the presidential primary election of 2008 between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, which drew 102,815 votes. At the end of the first week of voting this year, 114,243 one-stop votes had been cast, according to state Board of Elections numbers.

As of early Friday morning, 293,345 one-stop votes had been cast. Including mail-in ballots, 305,704 people, or about five percent of those registered to vote, have cast ballots since the early voting period began, according to state elections numbers.

Statewide, as of Friday, about 46 percent of votes cast have been Democrat; 34 percent have been Republican, 20 percent have been unaffiliated and less than 1 percent have been Libertarian, according to state elections numbers.

Local and state elections officials predict a flurry of early voting Saturday.

The Associated Press contributed material to this report.