Early voting has proven extraordinarily popular this year, setting records across the country as voters brave hours-long waits to cast their ballots in advance.
Voting specialists predict that about 1 in 3 registered voters will have cast ballots before Tuesday, even though there is no in-person early voting in a third of the states. By Thursday afternoon, 43 percent of all registered voters in Knox County, Tenn., had already voted, on the way to what election officials projected would be 48 percent turnout before the polls even open on Election Day.
In some jurisdictions, nearly half have already voted, creating the long lines that many voters had sought to avoid on Tuesday. In many states, election officials have extended the early voting hours, hoping to avoid a meltdown on Tuesday amid projections of an unprecedented overall turnout approaching 80 percent in many states.
Early turnout in Georgia was extraordinarily high, thanks to a close and bitterly fought Senate race that was being decided in addition to the historic presidential election.
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Voters in Snellville were waiting four to five hours Friday to cast their ballots. That was down from eight hours on Monday, said Lisa McAdory, the poll manager at Centerville Community Center, one of the busiest polling places in metropolitan Atlanta.
Four of the five computers that check voter registrations crashed Thursday night at the Adamsville Recreation Center in Atlanta, leaving more than a thousand people waiting long after the official closing time of 7 p.m. Hundreds were still in line at 11 p.m. as Atlantans watched them on the city’s late news broadcasts.
“This may be one of many places that this will happen,” said Lisa Borders, president of the Atlanta City Council. “The system is not adequate to accommodate the numbers of people that are going to be voting.”
Historic election fuels historic turnout
Similar problems were reported elsewhere, but by and large it was record turnout that meant extended waits across the country. Lines three hours long were reported in parts of Chicago and New Orleans, and two-hour waits were common in many cities.
That’s how long voters stood in line Friday morning at the downtown Municipal Building in Milwaukee, where the line snaked out the door, down the sidewalk and around the block.
In Houston, the line around the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center was so long Thursday night that it lapped itself. Voters had to circle the building more than once just to get in the door.
Voters in Columbia, S.C., said they waited four hours to cast their ballots at the Richland County Administration Center, where lines running down four long hallways were aggravated by hundreds of taxpayers who pay their property taxes there at the end of each month. But David Smith of Columbia said it was worth the wait.
“If I didn’t vote, then I wouldn’t have a voice in the decision-making,” Smith said. “I think it’s very important for every citizen to take advantage of that right.”
Election officials in many states said the excitement generated by the election of the first black president or the first female vice president was likely to generate record turnout — 90 percent in Colorado, 85 percent in Maryland, 83 percent in Washington and 80 percent in Ohio, Texas and Utah.
“It’s very exciting. It’s a history-making election and great to be a part of it,” said Joanne Fountain, an election worker in Indianapolis.
‘That’s the way it should be’
Marvin Register, the court clerk in Cole County, Mo., said the turnout was a good thing for democracy.
“That’s the way it should be every election,” he said. “Every election should be a record turnout.”
But it was also creating headaches for election officials, who sought to get as many voters to the polls as early as possible to avoid potentially crushing problems on Election Day itself.
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist extended the state’s early voting hours to accommodate the millions of people showing up to get a jump on the voting. So did election officials in all or parts of North Carolina, South Carolina, California, Texas, Indiana, Illinois, New Mexico and Tennessee.
In Denver, meanwhile, voters will be able to drop off their ballots Saturday at a drive-through window at the Clerk and Recorder’s Office. Alton Dillard, a spokesman for the Denver Elections Commission, reassured voters that the drive-through would be staffed by sworn election judges and Denver police.
Still, long lines were the story of the day, and they took many voters by surprise, particularly since many of them showed up early specifically to avoid long lines.
“We thought maybe 15, 20 minutes,” said Nastassia Jones, a graduate student at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale who voted in Jackson County, Ill. “We got here and saw the line inside and the line outside. It was a shocker.”
But by and large, voters accepted the delays with good humor.
“We wait in line for everything else — amusement parks, a cup of coffee,” said George Fuller, an early voter in Chicago. “Why not wait in line to make a decision about what happens in your life?”
James Lawson, who voted in Myrtle Beach, S.C., said: “It’s a pain, but hey, somebody’s got to wait. That’s the way it goes. If you want to vote, you’ll wait.”