Year-End Wrap Up 2020


As the sun sets on 2020, the State Board of Elections is looking back on an unprecedented and busy year in North Carolina elections. Election officials worked tirelessly this year to ensure each registered voter could cast a ballot safely and efficiently. After post-election audits, the State Board certified the March 3 primary election, the June 23 second primary in the 11th Congressional District, and the November 3 general election.

Our goal is to make sure all voters can cast a ballot without fear of catching the virus.

— Karen Brinson Bell, Letter From Our Executive Director in the Judicial Voter Guide 2020 mailer

General Election

Election workers pulled off a successful election with the highest voter turnout in North Carolina history and a staggering increase in absentee by-mail voting. The counties used eight additional high-speed scanners, purchased by the State Board, to help with the influx of absentee by-mail ballots. In 2020, 33 counties received new voting equipment, making voting more accessible and user-friendly.

Ahead of the election, we launched a more accessible, mobile-friendly website that is translatable to several languages and mailed out a judicial voter guide to all North Carolina households. We also launched the Democracy Heroes campaign amid the pandemic to ensure each county had enough poll workers for the election. More than 57,000 North Carolinians completed the worker recruitment survey, and more than 30,000 of you served as poll workers. All counties hired enough workers to serve voters and successfully conduct the election.

After the election, the county boards of elections completed a statewide machine recount and a sample hand-to-eye recount in the Chief Justice contest. With the recounts, the boards confirmed accurate results for voters.

3 Ways to Vote

Absentee by-mail, early voting, and Election Day.

60 Days to Vote

Absentee by-mail voting began September 4 and ended November 3.

0% Voter Turnout

This is the highest turnout in recent history. 69% of voters turned out in 2016 and 68% of voters turned out in 2012.

Ballot Breakdown

1,001,000+ Absentee by-Mail Ballots Cast

3,628,000+ One-Stop Early Voting Ballots Cast

916,000+ In-Person Ballots Cast on Election Day

0+ Total Ballots Cast

Absentee by-Mail Voting

North Carolina was the first state in the nation to begin the absentee by-mail voting period as county boards started mailing out absentee ballots on September 4. The State Board partnered with:

  • The Center for Civic Design to make the design of the request form and mail-in envelopes more user-friendly.
  • Democracy Live to launch an online absentee ballot request portal.
  • BallotTrax to allow voters to track their absentee ballot through the mail.

Within the absentee ballot request portal, the State Board launched an accessible absentee ballot for visually impaired voters and another service that allowed nearly 27,000 military and overseas voters to submit their absentee ballot online.

The state has had “no excuse” absentee voting since 2001, but the method has never been as popular during a general election as it was in 2020.

Absentee by-mail ballots  2016 Election 2020 Election
Percent of all ballots cast   4.0% 18.1%

In-Person Voting

Election workers protected themselves and millions of voters from a deadly virus, ensuring that no COVID-19 clusters were tied to voting sites in North Carolina. Voters had the opportunity to cast their ballot during an early voting period with more sites and voting hours than ever before.

Safety for In-Person Voting

14,000,000+ Items of Personal Protective Equipment

Delivered to County Boards of Elections

6,000,000+ Single-Use “I Voted” Pens

Delivered to County Boards of Elections

4,544,000+ In-Person Votes Cast

0 Reported COVID-19 Clusters

Greater Access to Early Voting

During the 2020 general election, North Carolina had more one-stop early voting sites than in 2016 and a significant increase in hours.

- 2016 Election 2020 Election Percent Increase
One-Stop Sites 445 451 1.3%
One-Stop Hours 43,337.75 77,887.00 79.7%

Online Voter Registration

On March 30, we announced our partnership with the DMV to offer online voter registration services. Since then, over 60% of voters who registered in time for the 2020 general election did so online. 

Republican Second Primary in the 11th Congressional District

A second primary takes place when none of the candidates receives the 30% of votes required to avoid the possibility of a runoff, and a primary candidate with the second-highest number of votes demands one. In 2020, a Republican second primary in the 11th Congressional District took place on June 23, with significant safeguards to protect against the spread of COVID-19.


During a primary, voters indicate their preference for their party’s candidate for an upcoming election. For the March 3 primary in 2020, the results applied to the general election. In 2020, there were five partisan primaries (the most ever) in North Carolina: Constitution, Democratic, Green, Libertarian, and Republican.

- Democratic Primary Republican Primary Libertarian Primary Green Primary Constitution Primary
Percent of all partisan primary ballots cast 62.2% 37.4% 0.3% <0.1% <0.1%
Number of ballots cast in each partisan primary  1,344,414 808,926 6,491 340 304