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In North Carolina, Election Night Has Already Started

And the state’s fate is more up in the air than Trump hotel room prices

Welcome to The Battle For North Carolina, a series where we take you inside one of the most contentious states in 2016.

On Tuesday, Democratic Senate candidate Deborah Ross was at Meredith College in Raleigh, counting the raised hands of people who had already voted early. “What's wrong,” she asked, “with the rest of you?”

From now until the election, North Carolina is like an electioneering Epcot, where you can find every type of supporter and every type of campaign character if you have time to do a complete circuit. The fate of the North Carolina Senate race is more up in the air than Trump hotel room prices. The presidential and gubernatorial races are close in the state too, which is why Elizabeth Warren was at the event with Ross Tuesday night — and why Bill Clinton and Donald Trump would be there on Wednesday, and Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton on Thursday.

North Carolina also has 19 days of early voting this year, and hundreds of thousands of voters have already taken advantage of the Election Day marathon. It’s not always easy to do so: Although a federal appeals court overturned the state’s vast menu of voter restrictions, arguing that they “target[ed] African Americans with almost surgical precision,” a few counties with Republican election boards reduced their number of early-voting locations. Guilford County, home to the civil rights movement’s Greensboro sit-ins, only has one early-voting location this year. Many people have had to wait more than an hour to cast their ballots. A report from last year showed that black voters had about double the wait time of white voters in 2012.

The lines in Wake County have stretched for blocks too. But an hour before the event at Meredith College, voters outside the Chavis Community Center — once a “separate but equal” rec center for African-Americans in Raleigh — were spared the wait. Many had come to vote this Tuesday because they were worried about lines on Election Day itself, or because saving ballots for November 8 somehow feels like procrastinating at this point.

The people streaming out of the building, adorned in “I Voted Early” stickers, looked glad to be done with the 2016 race, but still proud to have done their part. Stephanie Rowland and Daniel Amparo, freshmen at North Carolina State University, were voting for the very first time. “I’m excited and a little bit nervous,” Rowland said. Amparo just turned 18 last week, and the issue affecting his vote most was immigration. His mom came to the United States from Ecuador, his dad from the Dominican Republic, and the rhetoric from this year has had him thinking about a world in which they had never been allowed to stay here, or in which families around the country were suddenly torn apart. “What is a country,” he said, “without its families?”

Pilar Salgado came to the U.S. from Colombia, and said her friends and family have all been motivated to vote this year. She held up her “I Voted” sticker, smiling. “I am proud of it. I am proud of voting early. It is my responsibility to my country.”

Caitlyn Moseley, wearing scrubs, had just gotten off a nursing shift. She just wanted her vote to be part of history, should America get its first female president. Twenty-one-year-old Amber Hunsel and her sister, 23-year-old Kayla Hunsel, admitted they didn’t always think their vote mattered — at least until they went to the State Fair and saw Donald Trump stickers everywhere, many worn by people their age. Amber has been living in New York City, and said she gets what she calls the millennial “democracy is an illusion” mindset. But coming back to North Carolina hits home the power of a vote.

The State Fair came up again after the event at Meredith starring Elizabeth Warren. Donna, a 23-year-old student, was struck by the performative pride of Trump supporters at the fair — “Proud to Be a Deplorable” and “Hillary for Prison” shirts were available for 15 bucks — compared to the relative quiet of Clinton’s fans. The same dynamic was visible in yards around Raleigh. There are Clinton-Kaine signs to be found, often paired with decorative pumpkins. The Trump yards, however, often double as performance art installations. One in Raleigh was so coated with signage that it looked like it had once housed a fertile bunny colony that had been transformed by a vengeful deity into a settlement of corrugated plastic. Another house had one Trump sign on the mailbox and a sign for incumbent Governor Pat McCrory in the grass. The pièce de résistance was in the middle, a giant Trump sign with a small lamp in front, illuminating the candidate’s name at all hours like an eternal flame.

Although Trump fans have signs that read “The Silent Majority Stands With Trump,” Donna was convinced that the quiet voters are actually on the opposite team. She is a DREAMer, and can’t vote, which has been “frustrating.” As for the rhetoric surrounding immigration this year, she said she’s been hearing it her whole life: “It’s not like I’m not used to it.”

Katie Clark was at the event to hear Warren too, and was still wearing her voting sticker, even though she had cast her ballot the day before. She said she was going to keep wearing it as long as possible to remind people to vote.

Alison Fenderson, who was wearing American flag earrings, an American flag sweater, an American flag cowboy hat, and an American flag scarf, got her sticker last Friday. She felt like the people she knows have been even more energized than they were in 2008, when Barack Obama was on the ballot. She canvasses at home in conservative Harnett County, where most of the people who answer the door don’t always agree with her and sometimes argue. “But,” she said, “I’m a nasty woman, so I give it to them.”

And what to do with all your free time, now that you’ve voted and can ignore the endless reams of direct mail still floating to your door? Edwin Robertson, a 22-year-old who also voted early on Tuesday, said he stopped paying attention to election news back in July, confident that he knew everything he needed to know about the candidates. Those about to join him in a blissful Clinton- and Trump-less world can look forward to more time to spend reading fiction or doing homework. Also, he added, “It helps me sleep.”