Local Politics

New tool allows Durham voters to check wait times at polling sites

Posted October 13, 2020 7:41 p.m. EDT
Updated October 14, 2020 11:57 a.m. EDT

— Early voting starts Thursday and runs through Oct. 31 in North Carolina.

Although elections officials say it's hard to predict turnout, they warn people to be prepared for possible lines at voting sites.

In Durham, the county’s Board of Elections website shows a list of voting locations and current wait times so you can plan ahead of time.

"I think it’s genius," said voter Tommy Fairbairn. "If there’s a way to avoid wasting time at the polls, it’s something that we need.”

Early voting has become more popular in recent elections, leading to lines and waits. A record 3.1 million North Carolinians cast early in-person votes in the 2016 election.

Locations will be open 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. weekdays, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the first two Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the final Saturday and 1 to 6 p.m. Sundays.

Gary Sims, Wake County's elections director, said lines are usually shortest on the first days of early voting. The busiest times are lunchtime on weekdays, on Saturdays and the last three days of the early voting period.

Studying the ballot ahead of time can speed the process and help cut down on waits, Sims said. "There's so many candidates on the ballot – it's a double-sided, 17-inch ballot. It's a big ballot, lot of stuff," he said. "That'll help you speed up your processes and help you out when you choose to go vote in person."

"I voted early," said Laquashe Mcmillan, of Raleigh, recalling the election four years ago. "The lines were super-long. People were standing in line waiting hours just to vote."

Because of the pandemic, voters will be provided masks, hand sanitizer and single-use pens to mark their ballots. Election officials will wear protective gear, sanitize surfaces between voters and ensure everyone adheres to social distancing guidelines.

Voters who aren't yet registered can register and cast a ballot in a single visit to any of the one-stop voting sites. People can check their registration status through the State Board of Elections website.

Wake County has 20 such sites, while Durham County has 14 and Cumberland County has 12. Each of North Carolina's 100 counties has at least one site open during the entirety of the early voting period.

Jason Lewis said he's thinking of voting on Election Day instead.

"Honestly, I haven't thought about it, I know I've seen a lot of stuff getting people to vote early and vote online or mail-in, so if i had to guess, I don't think [the lines will] be too long," Lewis said.

Sean Ross said he mailed his absentee ballot this election to avoid crowds completely.

"Given the stakes in this election, I think there's going to be a fairly high turnout," Ross said. "It's more convenient, and I also didn't want to stand in line, obviously with the COVID situation."

Planning to vote by mail instead?

Anyone who plans to cast an absentee ballot by mail needs to request the ballot by Oct. 27 and fill it out carefully before sending it in, making sure to obtain the required witness information. Ballots will take at least several days to be counted.

Less than 1% of absentee ballots aren't counted, and most of those are due to voter error. The State Board of Elections has a tool to track the status of mailed ballots.

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