Early voting: Tips for a shorter wait

You can monitor voting traffic at Mecklenburg's 20 sites on the board of elections Web site.

10/26/2008 12:00 AM

10/26/2008 11:25 AM

Republican, Democrat or Independent, a lot of early voters in southern Mecklenburg last week shared one common bond: long waits to cast their ballots.

Delays ranged from one to nearly three hours at some sites.

“They need more machines,” said Cora Maxwell, who waited two and half hours to vote late last week at the Matthews Branch Library. “Maybe some more sites, too.”

But you don't have to wait hours to cast your early vote. Here are some tips from elections officials and the Observer's visits and calls to several early voting sites:

Psst,some voting places have short lines. Choose well. There are four voting sites in southern Mecklenburg, 20 countywide. You can register and vote at any one. Stay away from packed sites like the South County Regional Library, 5801 Rea Road, or Matthews Branch Library in downtown Matthews, with wait times between two and three hours.

Elections officials say lines were shorter early last week at the Hayes Building in Ballantyne, 11405 N. Community House Road. But a surge later in the week turned it into one of the busiest sites. The county's shortest lines can consistently be found at the CPCC North campus, 11930 Verhoeff Drive, Huntersville. But lines fluctuate as word gets out about slow sites. Lines were also short or nonexistent in Union County last week. But you can't cross county lines to vote. York County doesn't have early voting.

Check out the waits yourself. You can visit the Mecklenburg County elections board's Web site to learn how many people voted at each site the previous day. That's www.meckboe.org. Or phone the BOE at 704-336-2133.

You can call some sites to get wait times:

Steele Creek Branch Library (about an hour last week), 704-588-4345.

Hayes Building (15-40 minutes last week). Call BOE office to check, 704-336-2133.

South County Regional Library (one to two hours last week), 704-341-5872.

Matthews Branch Library (two-three hours), 704-847-6691.

Consider getting a mail-in absentee ballot. But hurry. You'll get to cast your vote before Nov. 4, and dodge long lines. But requests have to be received by 5 p.m. Tuesday. One caveat: You must already be registered to vote.

Mail or fax requests for mail-in absentee ballots. Include full name, Mecklenburg address and address you wish your ballot mailed to. Phone number and birth date are helpful but not required.

Mail to: Mecklenburg County Board of Elections Absentee Department, P.O. Box 31788, Charlotte, NC 28231. Fax to: 704-319-9722.

You can also request absentee ballots at the BOE office, 741 Kenilworth Ave., Suite 202, Charlotte. A member of your immediate family can drop off the request form for you. Ballots will then be mailed out.

If you are physically disabled or ill, you have until 5 p.m. Nov. 3 to submit your request.

Mecklenburg County Board of Elections Director Michael Dickerson says he'll probably use a mail-in absentee ballot. “I'm here until 9 p.m. almost every night and Election Day is going to be busy,” he said.

Consider chancing it on Election Day, Nov. 4.

The hope is that long lines during early voting will ease the crunch on Election Day, Dickerson said.

Mecklenburg County has nearly 620,000 registered voters. About 75,000 had voted by late last week at the 20 early voting sites. Dickerson expects about 170,000 early voters by the final day, Saturday.

On Election Day , the county will open 195 voting precincts. Elections officials say some lines are still expected.

If you still wind up waiting in line to cast your early vote…

Wear comfortable shoes and dress warmly because you wait outside. And, console yourself with the idea that you're saving taxpayer money. Mecklenburg's 20 early voting sites were the most possible with the money available, Dickerson said. His office had about $400,000 to spend on early voting places.

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