Long lines form as North Carolina begins early voting

State - Regional

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 attracted crowds in the high-stakes swing state. More than 500,000 people have already cast mail-in absentee ballots amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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.

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 President Donald 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.

State and county election officials have been preparing for months for in-person voting, accumulating personal protective equipment for poll workers and voters. Voters are encouraged but not required to wear masks. In many locations, the “I Voted” stickers usually handed out will be replaced with single-use pens that voters can take home once they fill out their ballot.

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