Beaufort County has record turnout for Election 2020
Beaufort County broke a record for turnout in the 2020 presidential election.
According to Beaufort County Board of Elections Director Kellie Hopkins, 77% of all voters registered in the county cast a ballot this year. The previous record was 72.8%, when former President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden ran against the late Sen. John McCain and former Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin in 2008. Since, Beaufort County’s turnout in presidential elections has hovered around 72%, in both 2012, when Obama was re-elected, and 2016, when President Donald Trump was elected to office.
Beaufort County’s turnout beat state turnout by a few percentage points: 77% to 74.56%.
A majority — 60% — of Beaufort County voters took advantage of early and absentee voting this year, which made Election Day much easier for the local BOE staff and poll workers, according to Hopkins.
“For a presidential election, it really wasn’t as stressful like they normally are, simply because we had like a 17% turnout yesterday,” Hopkins said Wednesday. “Everybody voting early took the heat off of Election Day. … There’s only so much you can take in in a 13-hour period. Presidential elections usually push you to your limits, that’s for sure.”
One Election Day issue is voters not knowing where they should vote, particularly those who don’t know voting takes place at their precinct, as opposed to the Board of Elections office, on Election Day.
“I couldn’t tell you the number of people who came in yesterday, who came here, because they voted early here (in a past election), and think this is their precinct. We had to hire someone to stand at the door, just to handle the people showing up, thinking this is where they vote,” Hopkins said.
The count is not over, Hopkins stressed. All results are unofficial until every vote is squared with a voter.
On Wednesday, staff was collecting all the equipment from the county’s 21 precincts, as well as downloading voter information from each precinct’s computer. The lag time between downloading that information and an individual’s voter history reflected on the state BOE website has led some county residents to question whether their votes have been counted.
“We have to download all the laptops to get voter history, and it takes a little bit of time get to 20 thousand-something people on the computer,” Hopkins said.
Hopkins said individuals’ voter histories will be reflected on the state website once that process is complete.
The next step for staff will be auditing: comparing the information of each precinct’s tabulators with individuals’ voter history to make sure the data matches.
“If there were 500 votes cast in a precinct, then we need to have 500 names that go with those votes,” Hopkins said. “If it’s wrong, then we need to figure out why.”
The local BOE also received 91 provisional ballots on Election Day that will be investigated by BOE staff. Provisional ballots are handed out in situations such as if voter goes to the wrong precinct to vote or a voter cannot be found on the county’s list of registered voters. In those situations, voters are given a provisional ballot and sign an affidavit describing the circumstances of registration/voting, and staff will track down and resolve the issue.
“It’s a fail-safe voting method, so that if there is any issue, we research it, and if, indeed, they are registered, (their vote) is counted, and if not, we get them registered,” Hopkins said.
On Election Day, 3,185 absentee ballots had been processed in Beaufort County, but more could arrive — in North Carolina, a mailed-in absentee ballot must be postmarked on or before Election Day but has until Nov. 12 to arrive at the local BOE.
“A lot of people are very nervous about mail balloting, but I think people don’t understand the process. If someone’s out of town, or say they’re overseas or are in the military, and they mail it before Election Day, then they have voted,” Hopkins said. “We don’t count any of them if they weren’t marked on or before Election Day. It would be fraudulent if they voted after Election Day.”
Hopkins said that in the 22 years she has been at the Beaufort County Board of Elections she does not recall a single occasion of mail-in ballot fraud, in which a voter showed up at the polls expecting to vote, but someone had “already voted their ballot.”
“If it did happen, mail ballots are traceable, and we can pull the fraudulent one,” Hopkins said. “If there’s anything fixable, we can fix it at canvass.”
Over the next week, Hopkins and BOE staff will process all votes, then will meet with the Beaufort County Board of Elections on Nov. 12 to go over absentee and provisional ballots to “make sure everything is right.”
On Nov. 13, the canvass will take place, in which all data will be presented to board.
“If they’re satisfied, then they certify the election,” Hopkins said.