CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Early voting kicked off Thursday in North Carolina and voters waited in long lines at several sites in the Charlotte area.
In Mecklenburg County, 13,459 people cast ballots Thursday. In 2012 on the first day of early voting, 15,000 total people voted.
The early-voting period began Thursday at 8 a.m., with at least one site open in each of the 100 counties. The early-voting period covers 17 days until Nov. 5. It grew by a week after a federal court struck down a 2013 law scaling back the number of days.
Early in-person voting has been very popular -- 56 percent of people who voted in the 2012 presidential election cast ballots by that method. People can also register to vote at early-voting centers and vote at the same time.
This fall's ballot features races for president, U.S. Senate, governor, the Council of State and a host of judicial and local races.
Local election workers are expecting a huge turnout on the first day, and longer lines at polling places across Charlotte because tens of thousands of people have moved to Mecklenburg County since the last presidential election.
Since they're expecting such a busy first day of early voting, election officials have brought in extra staff.
Voters can cast their ballot at any of the polling sites if they are registered to vote. You will be able to register right before you vote, but only during early voting. All you need is an ID and proof of residency.
Election leaders estimate 60,000 people will vote early in Mecklenburg County.
“We're only opening 10 sites the first week, and 12 additional sites the last 10 days of early voting, but we've also extended the hours and put some more voting panels out at the sites,” said Mecklenburg County Board of Elections Director Michael Dickerson.
The NAACP on campus is encouraging students at Johnson C. Smith to vote Thursday. They're even shuttling them from campus to the voting location every 15 minutes.
The get out the vote effort by the NAACP is taking place at campuses all over North Carolina. They said they want to push back against what they call systemic voter suppression efforts aimed at African-Americans and other communities.
Several of the students on campus will be voting for the first time and told Channel 9 that they're not concerned about lines, but excited to have their voices heard.
Early votes are critical in deciding who wins North Carolina.
Eight years ago, Barack Obama won enough votes in early voting to carry the state, so even though challenger John McCain received more votes on Election Day, Obama had enough votes to win the election.
Experts said many of the voters who show up on Thursday will likely already know who they’re voting for. Early voting typically favors Democrats, so Republicans are making a big push to get their loyalists to the polls.
Some political experts predict Hillary Clinton can win without carrying North Carolina, but it's different for Donald Trump.
“He needs North Carolina because there are other states that are even less Democratic than this that he also needs to win,” said UNCC political science professor Eric Heberlig.
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Cox Media Group