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2020 Voter Turnout Report

Who voted in North Carolina during the 2020 General Election, and how did they choose to cast their ballot?

The COVID-19 pandemic created unprecedented challenges in nearly every area of life throughout 2020 — including the General Election.

Federal and local safety guidelines necessitated significant changes to in-person voting sites, voting procedures, and a need for personal protective equipment (PPE). The pandemic also led to poll worker recruitment on a massive scale. Meanwhile, political figures and media stoked fear about the validity of the election, leading to voter confusion and political unrest.

Despite these challenges, the 2020 General Election resulted in the highest voter turnout in recent U.S. history. Over 5.5 million North Carolinians cast a ballot during the General Election – nearly 72% of the state’s voting-eligible population. When compared to other states, North Carolina ranked 17th in the nation for voter turnout.

The following analysis attempts to identify the key trends in North Carolina’s 2020 General Election: who turned out to vote, and how they voted. Due to the profound negative impact that colonialism and racism have had on our state, we examine disparities between racial and ethnic groups. We also attempt to tease out the impact that policy changes – both big and small – may have had on turnout and voter registration in our state.

Regardless of how one might interpret the 2020 turnout data, one clear fact remains: in-person voting on Election Day continues to decline in popularity among North Carolinians. In order to make our democracy more equitable and reflective of voters’ wants and needs, policymakers must continue offering voting methods that are flexible and accessible.

Read the full report!

Click here to learn about who voted in NC during the 2020 General Election, and by what means they chose to cast a ballot

Key Findings

By analyzing North Carolina State Board of Elections data, we identify new and recurring trends with voter registration and voter turnout across ages, racial / ethnic groups, and geographical regions of our state.

  • Our analysis found voter turnout from 2016 to 2020 increased in every county in NC, across all age and racial/ethnic groups.
  • The number of voters who cast a ballot by mail grew exponentially in 2020. The percentage of voters who cast their ballot by mail ballooned from only 4% in 2016 to 18% in 2020.
  • Young voters were the most likely age group to vote by mail in 2020. Nearly 4 in 10 voters aged 18-25 cast their ballot by mail in 2020.
  • Voting on Election Day has become the least popular voting method in North Carolina. Only 16% of voters cast a ballot on Election Day in 2020 — down from 33% in 2016.
  • Sunday was the most popular day of Early Voting. In 2020, 52% of counties offered Sunday voting hours, compared to just 21% of counties in 2016.
  • Far fewer provisional ballots were cast in 2020 than in 2016. Provisional ballots are used as a “backup” method, when a regular ballot cannot be used.
  • In-person Early Voting was by far the favored method of voting. Over 3.5 million North Carolinians cast their ballot in person during Early Voting (66%), compared to just over 1 million voters who voted by mail (18%), and just under 900,000 voters who voted in person on Election Day (16%).
  • Voters are becoming less rural and more urban. In 2020, over two-thirds of ballots were cast by voters who live in urban or suburban areas.
  • The number of registered Latiné voters skyrocketed from 2016 to 2020 — growing by over 36%. However, Latiné voters only make up 3% of all registered voters in our state.
    For in-depth analysis of the voter experience in 2020, please read the 2020 Election Protection Report. This report includes a thorough account of how Democracy NC and our partners protected the vote in 2020, and recommendations for how our election policies can be improved to ensure all voters can make their voices heard.
“The 2020 General Election resulted in the highest voter turnout in recent U.S. history. Over 5.5 million North Carolinians cast a ballot during the General Election – nearly 72% of the state’s voting-eligible population.”