With an overwhelming number of voters casting ballots by mail and voting early, some polling sites across the county felt like a ghost town by the time Election Day rolled around Tuesday.
Several precincts reported lines when the doors first opened at 6:30 a.m., mostly by voters hoping of beat the crowds later in the day. But the early morning lines soon evaporated and the crowds never materialized.
“From what I seen on the early voting, it was backed up worse than it is today,” said David Reeves Ferguson, a voter in Maggie Valley.
Party volunteers handing out literature and candidates waving signs to curry last-minute support surpassed the number of actual voters coming and going to the polls.
“I figured the lines would be out the door today, but I just walked right in. I didn’t even have to wait,” said John Schreiber, who was voting at the Waynesville library — one of the larger precincts in the county.
Michael Woody, 73, has always voted on Election Day and wasn’t about to change now.
“It’s the traditional way to do it,” said Woody, a Maggie Valley voter. “I know way back they used to stay at the polls all day. Some of them would drink and fight and cuss. It was an event.”
While more than 6,000 Haywood County voters sent their ballots in by mail this year, dropping a ballot in the mailbox seemed too anti-climactic for Charlie Junge, a 32-year-old Maggie Valley voter.
“It feels a little more personal to go on Election Day than voting by mail. It feels more official,” said Junge.
Whitney Maney, a 25-year-old voter in Clyde, agreed.
“It is more intense and exciting,” Maney said.
Maney, a Trump supporter, also wanted to avoid any of the hiccups with mail-in voting that she had heard about.
“I don’t see how that couldn’t get rigged someway,” Maney said. “I’ve always heard to wait until Election Day to vote.”
Citizen poll watchers
One interesting dynamic this year was the appearance of self-appointed poll watchers at various voting sites. The poll watchers came in all flavors.
There were non-partisan voting rights advocates and local Trump supporters who answered the president’s call for citizens to man their local precincts on Election Day to prevent fraud. There were Democratic poll watchers who came in from out of state to guard against intimidation by those same Trump supporters.
All had the same mission apparently: to protect voting rights as the foundation of American democracy, which both sides feared was being threatened by the other.
Dan Reid, a member of the conservative WNC Patriots, was among those who took to the polls across Haywood County Tuesday as a self-appointed election monitor.
“I have been told through some of my sources there was going to be voter suppression staged at some of the polling places by BLM and ANTIFA. So I’m out here monitoring,” said Reid, decked out in Trump gear.
Reid planned on making rounds to polling sites from dawn to dusk.
“All day long. I don’t care if it costs me $100 in fuel. I am not stopping until this election is done,” Reid said.
During a morning cruise through the Clyde polling site, Reid warned three senior citizens wearing Biden masks there better not be any shenanigans from their party. Later in the day, Reid turned up at the Waynesville library polling site asking for Moe Davis, the Democratic candidate running for U.S. Congress.
“Moe Davis said he was going to stomp on my neck,” Reid said, referring to comments Davis allegedly made during the campaign in reference to Black Lives Matters counter protestors. “I’m here to see if he wants to try to make good on that.”
Reid was approached in the parking lot by another poll watcher — this one with the Democratic Party.
“He started yelling and said ‘I need to know where Moe Davis is at. He said something about stomping on my neck and I’m here to cash in on that,’” recounted poll watcher Tyler Gettelfinger.
Someone called the police, but Gettelfinger had stepped in to “de-escalated” the situation in the meantime.
“He didn’t technically do anything wrong, but it seemed like the definition of voter intimidation, which is why I’m here,” said Gettelfinger, who had come in from Nashville, Tennessee. “Everybody has the right to vote and every vote counts. Anything we can do to help out and make sure everybody feels safe.”
Gettlefinger was in it for the long haul — from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. — and like everyone working the polls, he was grateful for the good weather.
Meanwhile, at the Maggie Valley town hall polling site, volunteer Scott Williams was holding a clipboard and wearing a yellow shirt emblazoned with “Vote Protector.”
Williams, who’s from Madison County, had been concerned about the possibility of voter intimidation and suppression and wanted to do his part to protect fair elections. So he plugged into a nonpartisan voting rights group that trained volunteers in the lead up to Election Day and then dispatched them to polling sites across the state.
“I think it is fantastic. I have learned so much more about how the process works,” Williams said. “The main thing I’m here for is to help people who are in the wrong precinct or are rejected for some reason. We have a help line to direct them to the proper place to go to or help them get a provisional ballot.”
End of the line
More than 23,000 Haywood County voters cast ballots during early voting, and another 6,000 voted by mail — accounting for around 63% of registered voters.
Not all voters who waited until Election Day did so by design, however.
Voter Brad Lindsey said the only reason he hadn’t voted yet was a case of old-fashioned procrastination.
“I kept driving by thinking ‘I got to go in there,’” said Lindsey, a Clyde voter.
Lindsey feared he would face lines as a result of waiting, but was able to walk right in. The only surprise he encountered was the touch-screen voting machines had been replaced with fill-in-the-bubble ballots — the result of a state mandate requiring counties to revert to manual voting.
“I was a little surprised to find the paper ballots,” said Lindsey. “It’s like the old-school CAT tests we did as kids.”
Phillip Turner simply didn’t get around to early voting because he’s not out and about that much anymore. He works from home, his kids are doing remote school, and he orders his groceries over Instacart.
“It just didn’t work out,” said Turner, also a Clyde voter. “So I’m coming out now and getting it counted.”
For Abby Yandle, it was her first time voting in Haywood County after recently moving here. She had made sure to register to vote in time, but simply didn’t get around to voting early.
“It was easier for me to do it today than try to chase it down,” Yandle said, who rolled into the Maggie town hall voting site mid-morning. “I am expecting a drama-free, fairly quick voting experience since there’s not a line outside.”
Both parties had closely followed turnout during early voting. After the polls closed on the final day of early voting Saturday, party volunteers acquired lists of those who hadn’t yet voted and began a weekend calling campaign to urge the stragglers to vote on Tuesday. But the list was a short one.
“There were only 200 Democrats in Clyde that had not voted yet as of Monday,” said Catherin Weber, a Democratic Party volunteer working the Clyde Fire Station.
Weber and fellow party volunteer Catherine Ellis were both decked out in hand-made Biden-Harris masks.
“A friend gave me the fabric and wanted me to make flags for car antennas, but then I realized cars don’t have antennas anymore,” said Ellis, who repurposed the fabric for masks instead.
All over but the waiting
With voting behind them, the only thing left for voters to do Tuesday night was to wait for the results to roll in. But many feared it would take days or even weeks before the dust settled and a presidential winner was declared.
“That’s the last thing I want to deal with over the next month is them fighting over who won,” said Lindsey, who didn’t anticipate staying up Tuesday night.
Junge said she is keeping her fingers crossed that Trump will be voted out, but wouldn’t be staying up to find out either.
“I have four little kids, so I won’t be staying up,” she said.
Maney, meanwhile, planned to stay up as late as she could to watch results come in, but wondered whether rioting might break out depending on how things went.
“I’m afraid it will be bad,” Maney said. “If Biden doesn’t get in there, people will be whining. If Trump gets put out, then the other party will be upset, but I don’t think they would go as AWOL.”
The presidential election was certainly the top thing on voters minds this year. Political pundits predicted that candidates further down the ballot would rise and fall according to the presidential voting tide.
Betty Edwards, a Clyde voter, cast her ballot early for Biden. She’s registered as an independent, but voted Democrat down ballot in keeping with her top-of-the-ticket choice. She was in a quandary when it came to the local school board race, however, which doesn’t list the candidates’ party.
“So I just randomly voted,” she said.
Freddy Tipton, also a Clyde voter who voted early, cast his ballot for Trump. But like Edwards, doesn’t always know anything about candidates further down the ticket.
Ayo Femi, Canton, is a long-time voter, but is seeing different issues this year.
“I want a secure future for my sons,” said Femi. “As a Black woman with two Black sons, this is the first time we have experienced racism.”
It’s little things, she explained, like being followed in a store or driving down the street and somebody shoots a bird. At family discussions, it was agreed when that happens, the best recourse is responding to the vulgar gesture with a thumbs up to prevent a situation from escalating.
“I just kind of eeny-meeny-minee-moe it,” Tipton said.
Candidates in the homestretch
Commissioner candidate Brandon Rogers spent plenty of time working the polls during early voting. He said he saw a lot of enthusiasm and a number of first-time voters.
“I talked to a lady who was 72 and it was her first time to vote,” Rogers said. “She was a Trump supporter and wanted to make sure he was re-elected for her sake, her kids’ sake and her grandchildren’s sake. She came with her daughter in her 50s, and she had never voted, either.”
School board candidate David Burnette was working the polls at the Canton library Tuesday as well, and putting up signs for himself and fellow incumbents Jim Harley Francis and Ronnie Clark.
The trio has been helping each other out, dividing signs by carving out areas for each will put up and take down signs of all.
Burnette has been present as often as he can during the early voting period, saying he never fails to thank the volunteers for their service. He said he was optimistic about the election, and credited Waynesville district school board candidate Danya VanHook for taking the school board race to a new level.
“Danya has made us all work harder,” Burnette said.
Clark, who was working the Waynesville early polling site before the election, praised the voter turnout and the number of first-time voters he encountered. Ironically, he said, they weren’t just coming of voting age, but middle-aged and older individuals who had never voted before.
While nationally there has been talk about unrest at the polls, Francis, who was frequently at early polling sites preceding the election, said everyone working outside the polling sites on behalf of a candidate or political party had been getting along well.
Adam Bradley, a voter in Waynesville, said he was doing his civic duty by voting.
“Everybody has the right to vote, and to do it is doing your little part,” Bradley said.