RALEIGH, North Carolina — Early in-person voting started across North Carolina on Thursday, and if you haven't been called or visited by someone wanting you to vote now, don't worry — you'll probably be contacted soon.
Outside national organizations are pouring several million dollars into North Carolina's voter-persuasion efforts above the massive amounts being spent by campaigns and political parties. They're using phone calls, mailers, social media, and personal visits and trying to tap into people's desire to make a difference. In-state groups also are building upon support or opposition to recent actions by the Republican-led legislature.
"Who you elect will determine whether we go forward or backward on the critical issues of our day," the Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP, said on the steps of Shaw University in Raleigh before students marched to an early-voting site downtown.
The chief reason for the out-of-state influence is the U.S. Senate race, which on its own is already the most expensive Senate race in the nation this year. Voters also are electing legislators, judges and local officials. About one-third of the 2.7 million voters who cast ballots in the 2010 midterm election did so at early-voting sites.
Political arms of Planned Parenthood and the League of Conservation Voters have amped up their get-out-the-vote efforts now that more than 360 early-voting sites opened statewide Thursday, and will be open through Nov. 1. They are trying to get votes in favor of incumbent Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan. So have the conservative-leaning Americans for Prosperity and anti-abortion groups that are knocking on doors to defeat her and give the seat to Republican Thom Tillis.
The groups said this week their focus is largely on "drop-off" voters — those who cast ballots in presidential elections but ignore midterms.
"This is absolutely a critical opportunity," said Mallory Quigley, speaking for the anti-abortion Women Speak Out PAC, which is opposing Hagan by spending $1.5 million on ads and voter contact efforts involving 200 workers in five field offices. "We're not going to stop pounding the pavement until Election Day."
Planned Parenthood Votes is spending more than $2 million on voter-contract efforts this year that will ultimately reach 400,000 voters with the help of 480 staff workers and almost 400 volunteers. The League of Conservation Voters' representatives vow to knock on 640,000 doors before election night. Nearly all of the $4.2 million the league's Victory Fund plans to spend is going to voter contact efforts, including social media and mailings.
The initiatives focus on either solid supporters of their causes who just need a nudge to vote or what Working America, an AFL-CIO affiliate focusing on Triad voters and supporting Hagan, calls the "persuadable middle."
Americans for Prosperity is expressly opposing Hagan in Wake, Mecklenburg and Forsyth counties but is performing generic get-out-the-vote activities to urge fiscally conservative citizens to vote in four other counties.
"We're always trying to sharpen" the group's message, said Americans for Prosperity state director Donald Bryson.
With the help of an outside firm, Planned Parenthood called people and invited them to record a 15-second explanation of why they should vote. On the eve of Election Day, they'll get a somewhat unnerving reminder — a call with their own voice on the other end.