NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Thousands took advantage of an expanded early voting period that opened Friday in Louisiana ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential election - forming lines so long that some in New Orleans abandoned polling places closer to home to vote at a basketball arena downtown.
Attorney Roderick James was one of them. Arriving early at a designated early voting spot near his home in eastern New Orleans, he saw a line about three blocks long. So, he opted to head downtown for the Smoothie King Center. It’s usually the home of the New Orleans Pelicans NBA franchise but, through Oct. 27, it is one of five early voting locations in the city.
He joined a line of about 50 other voters - masked if not consistently 6 feet (2 meters) apart - and was soon ushered into the arena, where he stood in another longer line. He estimated his wait to vote was no more than 40 minutes.
“It was actually very efficient,” he said.
Louisiana generally allows a seven-day early voting period. It was expanded to 10 under federal court order amid disagreements among state officials over how best to make voting safer during the coronavirus pandemic.
Long lines also were reported in other parts of the state, evidence of high interest in the presidential race pitting incumbent Republican Donald Trump against Democrat Joe Biden.
Dozens were in line at a Shreveport polling place before it opened, KTBS reported.
“Turnout has been tremendous,” Dale Sibley the Caddo Parish Registrar of Voters, told The Shreveport Times, describing a line that wrapped around the block.
At an early balloting spot in Baton Rouge, the line formed hours before opening and the wait to vote was two hours, The Advocate reported.
Also on the ballot, a U.S. Senate race in which Shreveport’s Democratic Mayor Adrian Perkins is challenging GOP incumbent Bill Cassidy, seven constitutional amendments, including one ensuring that the constitution’s language cannot be construed to grant abortion rights, and a measure in each parish to locally legalize sports betting.
But it was the presidential race that appeared to be driving interest. At New Orleans City Hall, where the line of early voters rounded a city block, Ashley Fleming said she had never before had to wait in a line to cast an early ballot.
“I think we’re having a very supercharged election this year with regard to the presidential election. I think people know what the stakes are this time around, after the last four years. I feel like people are more engaged,” she said. “They feel like the stakes are higher.”
Blocks away, at the Smoothie King Center arena, at least two voters interviewed Friday had walked away from City Hall, hoping for a shorter wait to vote. “It was set up real nice,” said one of them, Pam Dixon, who said it took about 45 minutes to vote.
Another voter was there to show appreciation.
“I wanted to come here in support of what the NBA is doing to promote expanded voting opportunities and to just support them with the stand that they’re taking in support of voter rights,” said Daniel Dreher.
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