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11% of NC voters have already cast ballots

Posted October 14, 2020 5:13 p.m. EDT
Updated October 17, 2020 9:48 a.m. EDT

— One in nine registered voters in North Carolina have already cast ballots in the upcoming election, state officials said Thursday night.

The state's 17-day early voting period opened Thursday, and voters turned out in droves, shattering the pace from the last presidential election in 2016. Four years ago, about 166,000 ballots were cast on the first day of early voting. On Thursday, the number was approaching 230,000, and state officials hadn't even made the final tally.

Combined with the 553,000 absentee-by-mail ballots that have already been accepted statewide, officials say about 11 percent of North Carolina's 7.2 million registered voters have already voted.

People and cars started arriving at early voting locations across the Triangle long before the sites even opened Thursday morning, and the long lines remained for much of the day.

Voters apparently didn't mind waiting in the socially distanced lines, bringing lawn chairs to sit on and chatting with others or scrolling through their smartphones to pass the time. Many said they just wanted to cast their ballots to make sure their votes were counted.

"Once we got inside, everything went smoothly. I got to vote. I'm really excited. There was a great turnout today," said Lisa Merritt, who got to the Hunt Recreation Center in Holly Springs 90 minutes before it opened but then had to wait out technical difficulties.

A voting tabulator went down at the site shortly after it opened, causing a backlog in processing ballots. Voters reported waiting in line at a standstill for an hour or more due to the delay.

Patrick Gannon, spokesman for the North Carolina Board of Elections, said that it's not unusual for a machine to go down.

"Issues like this are expected when there are hundreds of sites opened around the state," Gannon said.

Elijah Jackson said he waited more than five hours to vote at the Holly Springs site, which had about 400 people in line at one point.

"I just wanted to make sure I got here to be among the first to do it," Jackson said. "I'm super-proud and happy to do it, but if I had to compare it, it's no different than going to Disney World."

Holly Springs wasn't the only crowded voting site:

As of 11 a.m., Durham was reporting wait times as long as three hours at two locations and two hours at three others. But by 5 p.m., the average wait time across the county's 14 voting sites was 25 minutes, with none longer than an hour.

Election officials planned ahead for the long lines, and brought in portable toilets to voting precincts.

Polling locations have 6-foot separation lines striping the pavement along with signs to remind anyone with COVID-19 symptoms to vote from their cars. Voters are strongly encouraged to wear masks and practice social distancing.

Several voters said they felt safe with the pandemic-related precautions, noting that every voting booth was wiped down after each voter.

"We were 6 feet apart. We stood on the markers as directed, and everybody had face masks on, and everybody did as they were instructed to do," Dorothy Lanier said.

"If I use my common sense, I’ll protect myself and others around me," Rodney Marshall said. "So I’m not concerned. Be cautious, be smart and be aware of your surroundings."

As the day wore on, the sun bore down on waiting voters. Holly Springs town employees set up canopies outside the Hunt Recreation Center to provide shade and put out chairs, while firefighters gave away bottled water.

"It feels really cool to be part of such an important election," said 18-year-old Blain Denget after casting the first ballot of her life.

Larry Norris said he waited in line almost six hours.

"I never thought it would be this long," Norris said. "I never stood in a line this long, but it was worth it. I would wait another four hours if I had to."

He could have come back another day and maybe the line would be shorter.

"I wasn't going leave today. I come to vote, and I done so," he said.

Greg James still hadn't gotten inside the Hunt Recreation Center by Thursday evening after nearly four hours on line. Still, like Norris, he was committed to sticking it out.

"It's just civic duty," James said. "I didn't have anything else planned for the day. It's a beautiful day, so it's a good opportunity to come out here."

"I knew it was going to be busy, so I came prepared," Reva Garrison said. "I came with patience and all of that, so I'm going to wait it out."

Each polling location has an option for curbside voting for people who can't physically enter the building without assistance. Curbside voting is also available for voters with COVID-19 symptoms.

People who missed last week's voter registration deadline can register and vote at the same time during the one-stop early voting process. Proof of residence, such as a driver's license, other government-issued photo ID or a utility bill, is needed to register. College students must provide university IDs plus proof of their campus addresses.

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