And Colin Campbell, a reporter for the News & Observer in Raleigh, tweeted that the state Republican Party also took note of the decline:
Although some political scientists and observers agree with McDonald’s stats and concerns, others take issue with the narrative that black voters will sit out the election because Obama is no longer on the ballot. Although African Americans have said they are not enamored with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and they are even less attracted to Republican nominee Donald Trump, they have told pollsters that they think the election is important and they do intend to vote.
Michael Bitzer, a political-science professor at Catawba College in Salisbury, N.C., said his numbers were similar to McDonald’s and he attributes the decline to major changes in early-voting procedures in the state.
The state legislature passed a law in 2013 that lopped a week off the state’s 17-day early-voting period, required specific types of identification and did away with same-day registration. The North Carolina NAACP sued, and a federal court struck down the law, restoring a week of early voting, among other provisions. But the court was not specific and some counties opted to open only one polling place during the first week of early voting.
Bitzer pointed to Guilford County, which includes the city of Greensboro, as an example. The county has more than 364,000 registered voters, about 35 percent of whom are black, and for the first week of early voting had only one polling station open.
“Guilford has a pretty significant African American voter base, and they were substantially behind in their numbers throughout,” he said.
The North Carolina State Board of Elections rejected the argument that changes to early-voting procedures affected turnout.
An emailed statement provided by Patrick Gannon, public information officer for the state board, said that each of North Carolina’s 100 counties adopts its own early-voting plan that must get bipartisan approval at the county or state level. The statement also said that there were 16 percent more early-voting hours and 21 percent more early-voting sites. More than 3.1 million North Carolinians voted between Oct. 20 and Saturday, and the board, based on 2012 early-voting levels, estimates that “66 percent of all those who will vote this election have already done so.”
The statement acknowledged that some counties offered only a single early-voting site in the first week. “However, 64 of 100 counties either matched or increased the number of early voting hours for the first week of 2016, compared to the first week in 2012. According to [elections board] data, African-American turnout decreased in all but four of those 64 counties during the first week, showing that the decrease in African-American turnout had to do with something other than the availability of early voting during the first week.” (The four counties that showed no decrease — Ashe, Avery, Graham and Hyde — have a combined total of 1,029 black registered voters, 829 of them in Hyde.)
Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), said that the changes were disruptive, as was Hurricane Matthew, which brought flooding that shut down some small towns and dislocated residents. “It had a profound effect on voter turnout,” he said, but added that voters rebounded in the final week of early voting.
“I dispute any assertion North Carolina is underperforming,” he said. “The early vote in most of the counties that I am familiar with, and I represent 24 counties, we are equaling or surpassing the early vote in 2012,” Butterfield said. He predicts that Clinton will take the state and that Democrat Deborah Ross will defeat Sen. Richard Burr, the Republican incumbent.
Butterfield also disputes another oft-cited reason for lower turnout in North Carolina — a lack of enthusiasm for Clinton and a general electoral ennui among black voters because Obama will not be on the ballot.
Butterfield said what he hears from voters is just the opposite. “I’ve lived in North Carolina all my life, and I can feel the energy in the African American community,” he said. “The ads are very effective, and man on the street is excited about the election.”
Some men — and women — on the street would beg to differ.
Michelle Foxx, 42, who two Sundays ago took part in a “Souls to the Polls” march from her church to an early-voting site in Greensboro, said the negative tone of the campaign has been a turnoff and Clinton has not been able to generate “that spark.”
“A lot of people feel as though she’s not genuine,” Foxx said, but adding that people are prepared to vote for her just the same. “No, she’s not perfect. None of us are. However, the alternative is to either not exercise the right to vote or vote for a person who will not represent you in any kind of way . . . any manner that’s going to be progressive to our situation or our needs.”
Foxx said the best thing the Clinton campaign did was enlist Obama and first lady Michelle Obama to campaign for her in North Carolina. Both have made multiple visits to the state.
Andra Gillespie, a political scientist at Emory University, said Foxx's comment is typical of what she and other researchers found in a survey on black voters' enthusiasm conducted by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.
She said although people said they weren’t excited about the election, “that doesn’t mean they don’t recognize that the election is important. Most people planned on voting.” In the survey, 89 percent of whites said they planned to vote, 86 percent of blacks and 83 percent of Latinos.
Another poll released last week by the African American Research Collaborative showed that although black voters are far less enthusiastic than they were four years ago, they believe this election is more important than the 2012 presidential election and they intend to vote.
Gillespie pointed out that there were differences among age groups, with black millennials saying they were less likely to vote than older African Americans. Older black voters also were more likely to frame their vote for Clinton as a positive statement of support, while younger black voters cast their choice as a vote against Trump.
Gillespie also said she was cautious about some of her colleagues’ jitters over the early-voting turnout numbers. She thinks comparing the numbers to 2012, when African Americans voted at a higher percentage than their share of the electorate, is unrealistic. A better barometer would be to look at turnout based on African American’s percentage of the electorate.
African Americans make up 22 percent of the state's voters and have cast 22 percent of the early-vote ballots, according to the figures in McDonald's chart and on the vote tracker on the Carolina Transparency website. Whites, who are just over 69 percent of registered voters, have cast 70 percent of early ballots.
“We shouldn’t expect people to turn out at proportions larger than their numbers in the electorate,” Gillespie said. She also said that as the numbers of Latino and Asian American voters grow, “the black and white share of the electorate will go down.”
“We may not see record black turnout the way we did in 2012. However, it could very well be proportional to the black population itself,” she said. “I’m uncomfortable with characterizing black voters as being lazy and not showing up to vote. I don’t think that’s true or fair.”