Camiah Leak, 5, handed out pamphlets endorsing Linda Coleman with her mom and sister outside of Clayton Church Crossing polling location on election day.
SMITHFIELD -- More than 76,000 people voted in Tuesday’s election, putting the county’s overall turnout at 71.1 percent. Leigh Anne Price, director of the county board of elections, said that was slightly higher than it was in 2008.
Much of the increase, she said, came from the county’s “one-stop” early voting sites, which allowed residents to register and vote at one place before election day. There were four sites in all — in Smithfield, Clayton, the Archers Lodge-Flowers Plantation area and the Cleveland community — bringing about 43,000 people. It’s the first time the majority of county voters used early voting, and Price believes it significantly boosted turnout.
The board plans to add another location, in Benson, for the mid-term elections in 2014.
“People were very interested in having the one-stop. It was very convenient to them,” she said. “The more one-stop locations we have…the better off we’ll be.”
Johnston County voted overwhelmingly Republican, with 63 percent of voters backing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. President Barack Obama received about 35.5 percent of the vote. Republican Governor-elect Pat McCrory received 65.2 percent of the vote, compared to 32.8 percent for Democrat Walter Dalton.
Johnston Countians voted overwhelmingly to oust eight-term incumbent Congressman Mike McIntyre, a Democrat for county resident David Rouzer, a Republican state senator, in the state’s District 7 race. But the district is bigger than Johnston County, and as of Wednesday, McIntyre held a slight edge over Rouzer. The race will go through a recount, and Price said there are still about 1,300 provisional ballots in the county that need to be confirmed and counted.
The elections took hold of the county in the days leading up to Tuesday. McIntyre went on the offensive Monday, making campaign stops from Clayton to Elizabethtown. He swung by one of his campaign offices in Smithfield to rally some of his volunteers. “Y’all keep the momentum,” he said. “We don’t want to get 99 yards down the field and not make the final yard.”
Friendly Chapel Baptist Church brought in voters from Benson and Willow Springs, including Rouzer, McIntyre’s Republican challenger. Rouzer cast his ballot quietly just before 9 a.m. before heading out for a final campaign stop in Wilmington. Rouzer was optimistic about his chances to unseat the longtime incumbent. “Every third person I saw told me they were voting for me,” he said. “Not that I expect to win 75 percent of the vote, but it’s looking good. People are ready for a change.”
Scott Francis, a Willow Springs resident who sells mortgage insurance around the Triangle, said he’s seen his sales go down dramatically since Obama took office. He said he feels Romney and the Republicans would offer better solutions to the economic problems facing the country, so he voted a straight Republican ticket. “I don’t believe in the government spending our money to (solve) our economic problems,” he said.
Paquita Taylor, a Benson resident, voted for candidates from both parties. She picked Obama for president, but voted for Rouzer in the heated Congressional race. She thought McIntyre, whose district was redrawn to include Johnston County in 2010, seemed “detached” from the county. On the other hand, she said she thought Obama should have more time to finish what he started when he was elected. “These past four years have been clean-up years,” she said.
A few voters in that district were confused about the polling location. Kathleen DiSavino, of Willow Springs, said she had originally showed up to the old district’s polling station at Dixon Road Elementary School. She was incorrectly redirected to the fire station before being re-routed to the church. DiSavino was visibly frustrated and said she couldn’t remember receiving notification of the change. “I have gotten hundreds of pieces of junk mail and phone calls, but no one told me the polling place had changed,” she said.
Joy Paul, a Benson resident volunteering for the Republican Party, said she had seen a few voters who had gotten mixed up. Paul said the county board of elections had sent out notices earlier this year, before the primaries, but many people seemed to have lost them. But Paul said it didn’t appear to be hurting turnout. “They’re winding up here eventually, but they’re taking the long route,” she said. “They’re not giving up the trek.”
About 33,000 people made treks to polling locations in churches and community centers from Meadow to Clayton. Volunteers from both parties stood outside in the cold to hand out voting guides.
Barry Glover, a Republican volunteer, and Barbara Merritt, working for the Democrats, stood outside of the polling location at town hall in Smithfield. The groups huddled together in the parking lot, talking amiably during lulls in the action. Around midday, Glover, who uses a cane to help him walk, said he had been there since 5:45 a.m. “I’ve worked with Democrats before and we both have one thing in common — we want to get out the vote,” he said. “I just do it for the passion. I just love America.”