Mail balloting was set to begin Friday in the presidential election as North Carolina starts sending out more than 600,000 ballots to voters—responding to a massive spike in requests that has played out across the country as voters look for a safer way to cast ballots during the pandemic. The 618,000 ballots requested in the initial wave in North Carolina were more than 16 times the number the state sent out at the same time four years ago. The requests came overwhelmingly from Democratic and independent voters, a reflection of a new partisan divide over mail voting, the AP reports. While ballots go out in two weeks in other battlegrounds like Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, all eyes are on North Carolina as it leads off.
The GOP has historically dominated North Carolina mail voting, but this year the people asking for the ballots are not generally Republicans. Democrats requested more than 326,000 ballots, and independents 192,000, while only 92,000 were sought by Republicans. Voters in the state can continue to request the ballots up until Oct. 27, though that may be too close to the Nov. 3 election for them to receive the ballot and return it to their local elections office in time. The Democratic lead in mail ballots isn't only in North Carolina. In Pennsylvania, Democrats have requested nearly triple the number of absentee ballots as Republicans. In Florida, where the GOP once dominated mail voting, 47.5% of requests have come from Democrats and 32% from Republicans. (The White House denies that President Trump told people in North Carolina to vote twice.)