Local Politics

With early voting surging, Wake elections officials launch tool showing wait times at voting sites

Posted October 19, 2020 5:19 p.m. EDT
Updated October 20, 2020 6:03 p.m. EDT

— More than 1.1 million ballots have been cast in the first four-plus days of early voting in North Carolina, which is about 2.5 times the number cast at the same point in 2016.

Jackie Fassett said she has voted in every election since 1960, and she wasn’t about to let the coronavirus pandemic stop her this year.

"I got masks and sanitizers and everything," Fassett said as she waited in line outside Talley Student Union on North Carolina State University's campus on Monday. "I came prepared."

Although her age puts her in a high-risk category for the virus, she said she didn’t want to mail in an absentee ballot because she heard the mail had slowed down. So, she and her son, Jeff Fassett, went to an early voting site on his first day off.

"We wanted to hurry up and come and get our vote in early," Jeff Fassett said.

"The mail might not have arrived. If you vote by mail, it may not have arrived," Jackie Fassett said.

The surge in voting has prompted the Wake County Board of Elections to create a website showing estimated wait times at each of the county's 20 early voting sites. Durham County elections officials launched a similar tool last week.

Combined with the 635,000 mailed absentee ballots that have been accepted statewide, more than 1.65 million North Carolinians have already voted in the election, which is 24.2 percent of the state's 7.3 million registered voters.

"It’s just numbers we have never seen before in this state," said Michael Bitzer, a political science professor at Catawba College, who said North Carolina could see record voter turnout this year.

Bitzer said his analysis of the voting data shows that about one out of five people who’ve voted already didn't vote in the 2016 election. They either sat it out, or they weren’t yet registered in North Carolina.

Many are unaffiliated, so it’s hard to predict whom they’re voting for, he said.

"We know that this is just an election where people’s minds are made up. They’re ready to bank their votes before the last debate," he said. "It’s just an intensity that I’ve never seen in this state since I’ve been here for almost 20 years now."

Sam Sugg, who was able to vote early at Talley Student Center on Monday, said the long lines of voters over the weekend were inspiring.

"I think it’s just going to be high turnouts kind of across the country," Sugg said. "Whether it’s intense or not, it just didn’t feel like this level of energy last time, in the last presidential election. But this feels like the right level of energy."

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