DURHAM, N.C. (AP) - Long lines formed at polling places across North Carolina on Thursday as the battleground state kicked off early in-person voting.
Early voting locations that opened in all 100 counties of the high-stakes swing state quickly drew crowds. More than 500,000 people have already cast mail-in absentee ballots amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The State Board of Elections said Thursday evening that nearly 230,000 ballots were cast on the first day of early voting, compared with nearly 166,000 early ballots cast on the first day in 2016.
A Durham County government tracking tool measured the average wait time as more than an hour across 14 polling places in the Democratic-leaning area. Several reported two- and three-hour waits.
At a library branch in south Durham, a line of hundreds of people stretched more than 1/3 of a mile ( .5 km).
Lewis Cameron, a 63-year-old registered Democrat, arrived at the early voting site an hour before polls opened and left three hours later at 10 a.m.
Like nearly everyone in line, he was masked and did his best to maintain physical distance from others waiting to vote. He said he wanted to celebrate his birthday by casting his ballot and wasn’t surprised by the wait.
“This is probably one of the most significant elections in my lifetime, and I just wanted to get involved and do the process as quickly as possible. … The whole process, considering the number of people, went relatively quick,” said Cameron, who criticized the country’s leadership but declined to say specifically who he voted for.
Patty Braswell-Isler, a 57-year-old real estate broker who supports Democratic nominee Joe Biden, arrived just as polls opened at 8 a.m. She said she’s never seen a line quite as long in previous elections, which she took as a sign of enthusiasm and excitement.
Delays at the Durham early voting site she visited have dropped steadily throughout the morning, and those dropping off ballots curbside have occasionally honked their horns as a rallying cry to support those continuing to wait outside.
As of noon, about 75 people waited in line outside, down from several hundred earlier in the day. Braswell-Isler waited about three hours to cast her ballot, which she believes is more than worth it to unseat President Donald Trump.
“Trump got to go,” she said. “This roller coaster, this 2020 year has just been madness.”
She added, “With COVID and with the economy and the social unrest, all of this division, I think people are just tired of it and we just want somebody sensible.”
The voting site coordinator, Doris Bass-Glenn, said the long lines were unprecedented, as was the backup of cars waiting to get in the parking lot to drop off ballots curbside.
At a polling site in south Charlotte, about 100 people were lined up Thursday morning, many who arrived before it opened its doors at 8 a.m. The line was moving briskly and several said they were able to vote in an hour or less.
Mary Keith’s gloved hands held onto her walker as she waited in line to vote. The 95-year-old retired insurance agent wasn’t going to let the coronavirus pandemic stop her from casting her ballot for Joe Biden.
“I think it’s our patriotic duty. It’s a God-given right in this country to vote,” Keith said.
Carl Cecil said he believes there may be some room for improvement in the United States but thinks Trump is the man for the job again.
“He’s a businessman and he has produced jobs. All that stuff that they’re saying is false. He has produced a lot of jobs,” he said.
Exemplifying the importance of this wave of voting, Trump planned to hold a rally Thursday afternoon in Greenville. Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris had scheduled appearances in Charlotte and Asheville but canceled them after two people connected to the campaign tested positive for the coronavirus.
The in-person early voting option, which continues until Oct. 31, allows someone to vote at any voting center in their county of residence. People can also register to vote and cast a ballot at the same time during the early voting period.
More than 60% of the total ballots cast during the 2016 presidential election in North Carolina were cast through early in-person voting, or nearly 3 million votes. That percentage is likely to drop in 2020 as more 500,000 absentee ballots have been turned in so far - 10 times more than had been cast by mail at this point in the 2016 election.
Mail-in ballots have been preferred by those at higher-risk for severe illness from the coronavirus and those who want to avoid long lines.
Morgan reported from Charlotte.
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