Colorful election maps may still be dominating the 2008 election coverage, but what does it all mean? In Western North Carolina, Buncombe and Jackson counties went for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, but they were dots of blue afloat in a sea of Republican red. That’s the big picture, at any rate (The Washington Post map even shows it all in dizzying 3-D).
But sometimes, a close-up view may be more intriguing.
On Election Day, Xpress began at ground level. A drive through Madison County, for instance, revealed no long lines and little in the way of activity—except for three teenagers taking a break from holding up their Obama signs.
All were seniors at Madison High School, and none were old enough vote, though Jerry Chandler said he’s just a month shy of age 18. Fellow senior Jesse Davis said the trio had gotten up at 4 a.m. so they could make it to a high-traffic route in Marshall for the morning rush.
Asked why they were volunteering when they couldn’t vote, Mariah Auman replied that they were all in Civics class this year, learning about both major parties’ platforms and debating the issues. This year’s presidential vote will affect them, she argued.
Chandler agreed, adding, “We’ll be adults soon, and going to college and having to pay for health care.”
Their enthusiasm and knowledge about the issues gave a hint of the high turnout among young voters that pundits, reporters and analysts say helped spur Obama to victory. Nationwide, 66 percent of voters ages 18 to 29 supported Obama, according to one report—roughly double the number who voted for McCain.
But that trend was not enough to turn Madison County blue in the president’s race. According to Board of Elections Director Laura Ponder-Smith, her county fell about 100 votes shy of landing in Obama’s column—the closest margin seen in any WNC county this year. Interestingly, she notes, Madison County has almost twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans—8,026 to 4,276. There are also 3,751 unaffiliated voters and 12 Libertarians.
More than half of those voters cast their ballots early. “That’s substantially up from previous years,” says Ponder-Smith. Total voter turnout was up too, though it fell short of the 11,000 mark she’d been hoping to hit, winding up around 10,500 with a few provisional ballots still pending.
Still, it’s a significant bump up from other recent presidential elections—as in the rest of WNC:
• 8,000 votes cast in 1992 (when the county went Democratic, supporting Clinton/Gore)
• 6,400 in 1996 (another Clinton year)
• 8,000 in 2000 (swinging Republican, the county voted for Bush/Cheney)
• 9,643 in 2004 (Bush/Cheney).
Early voting, Ponder-Smith points out, didn’t start in North Carolina until 1994. Her figures also demonstrate that turnout tends to be lower during second-term presidential elections. In 2012, she predicts falling well below the 11,000 target.
But did Obama make “historic inroads in the South,” as a Nov. 5 New York Times article declared? Although provisional ballots were still pending at press time, the Associated Press called North Carolina for Obama on Nov. 6. Nonetheless, most of WNC still glows red.
Here are the tallies from a few counties in the region, as reported by The Washington Post:
Buncombe: 57% Obama 43% McCain
Jackson: 52% Obama 47% McCain
Madison: 49% Obama 50% McCain
Cherokee: 30% Obama 69% McCain
Haywood: 46% Obama 54% McCain
Henderson: 39% Obama 60% McCain
Mitchell: 29% Obama 71% McCain
McDowell: 36% Obama 63% McCain