CHARLOTTE — More than 1 million people had voted in North Carolina by early Friday afternoon.
In Mecklenburg County, more than 35,000 citizens voted, which set a single-day record.
The early-vote 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-vote period.
Three times more people voted early on the first day in the county than in 2016.
Elections director Michael Dickerson said if past elections are any indication, he expects the numbers to slow down and the lines to get shorter over the next 10 days or so.
“We tripled what we did four years ago, so that’s amazing. That’s amazing,” Dickerson said.
Voters lined up halfway around the parking lot at the old Pier One store on JW Clay Boulevard in northeast Charlotte.
“Yesterday, there was way more people,” voter Jordan Manley said Friday. “I think there was definitely way more excitement.”
Manley voted Thursday and returned Friday so that her disabled grandmother could vote.
“My first election was in 2016, and I thought that was important, but this one definitely seems like what we want our country to be for the next 50 years.”
There are 33 in-person early voting polling places in Mecklenburg County that will be open through Oct. 31. This year, Bank of America Stadium and the Spectrum Center are included in those sites.
They’ll all look a little different from years past because of the pandemic. Inside the Spectrum Center, plexiglass sneeze guards were installed in the lobby to protect workers and voters, and hand sanitizer stations are available.
Thirty-eight voting machines are spaced out six feet apart.
Voter safety is an issue that’s being addressed at polling places across North Carolina. A state memo outlined a list of behaviors for poll workers to look out for.
“It’s a big concern for a lot of voters,” former Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts said. “They are worried about being intimidated, about people blocking access, about blocking parking.”
Roberts volunteered to protect voters and serves with a nonprofit, nonpartisan group called Democracy NC. The memo urges workers to enforce a buffer zone, which is a space where voters cannot be bothered. It is usually 50 feet from the door of a voting site.
>> For more on the memo, watch the video at the top of this webpage.
Poll workers should look out for people wearing security badges, who tell voters they are monitoring the area.
“I’ve been to three sites today, and everything seems to be moving along smoothly,” said Brett Vines, of Union County Board of Elections.
To cut down on the crowds, Mecklenburg County Director of Elections Michael Dickerson is encouraging voters to plan ahead.
“You’ve got plenty of areas where you can go and vote at an off-peak time so you minimize your contact with people and minimize your contact in the whole process so that everybody can stay safe,” he said.
If you’re eligible and missed registering to vote, you can show up to an early voting location and register there. But if you wait until Election Day, you must vote at your assigned precinct.
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. These absentee ballots also can be dropped off at early-vote sites, though voters will still have to wait in line to do so.
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.
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.
In addition to the presidential race, voters are choosing between Republican Sen. Thom Tillis and Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham and between Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and Republican rival Dan Forest, the current lieutenant governor.
All 13 U.S. House and 170 General Assembly seats are up for reelection, as are several other statewide elected positions on the Council of State and the appellate courts.
Protecting your vote:
- Election observers may not interfere with voters casting ballots
- A political candidate’s supporters can’t simply “go into the polls and watch.”
- People may not block voters from entering.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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