By Paul LeBlanc, CNN
North Carolina voters can head to the polls on Thursday morning when early, in-person voting officially kicks off in the Tar Heel State.
According to the State Board of Elections, 359 early voting sites will open across the state Thursday through 3 p.m. ET on Saturday, November 5. That’s a 17% jump from the 307 site available during the 2018 midterm elections.
In North Carolina, the general election features a high-profile contest for an open US Senate seat, currently held by retiring Republican Sen. Richard Burr. Democrat Cheri Beasley, who would become the state’s first Black senator if elected, is facing off against GOP Rep. Ted Budd, for whom former President Donald Trump recently campaigned.
Beasley lost reelection as state Supreme Court chief justice by only about 400 votes in 2020 when Trump narrowly carried North Carolina. But Democrats hope that she’ll be able to boost turnout among rural Black voters who might not otherwise vote during a midterm election and that more moderate Republicans and independents will see Budd as too extreme.
Seats in the state legislature and on the state Supreme Court also are among those on the ballot.
“The 100 county boards of elections have spent months preparing for the start of in-person voting for the important 2022 general election,” Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the State Board of Elections, said in a statement Tuesday.
“The bipartisan election officials who work in each early voting site are prepared for a smooth voting process and to ensure the ballots of all eligible voters are counted,” she said.
North Carolina was the first state to begin sending out absentee ballots last month. The Tar Heel State has long been the first in the country to vote under state law that allows general election ballots to be issued two months before Election Day.
But officials say the 2022 midterms are unlike any previous election as workers grapple with threats to their safety and an onslaught of what they view as frivolous public records requests from people who question the 2020 election results.
Bell previously said local election officials have installed panic buttons and bulletproof glass in their offices in response to threats.
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CNN’s Simone Pathe, Fredreka Schouten, Dianne Gallagher and Pamela Kirkland contributed to this report.