With early, one-stop voting off to a buzzing start last week, elections officials in Mecklenburg, Union and York counties say they're expecting high participation.
One reason: numbers of registered voters here are the highest ever.
“We're opening up 20 sites for early voting. That's the most ever,” said Michael Dickerson of the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections.
About 75 people were in line Thursday, the day one-stop voting began, at the Matthews Branch Library polling site. Waits were up to 1 hour, 45 minutes, voters said. Richard Pugh, site coordinator, said elections workers were processing one voter per minute. He predicts lines may be long in the next few days. “Wear comfortable shoes,” Pugh says. And bring water and turn cell phones off.
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In front of the Stallings Fire Department in Union County, people were lined up at 9:40 a.m. Thursday. Polls opened at 10.
“I just wanted to get it over,” said Dave Ballenger, seated outside the door. “The last time I waited five and a half hours. I didn't want to do that again.”
Later that morning at the public library in downtown Monroe, the line backed out the voting area into a nearby corridor. A steady flow of people trekked across the parking lot.
Antoinette Bivens, 20, said it was the first time she had ever voted. “I came to vote in the presidential election,” she said.
Mecklenburg County had about 500,000 registered voters in May 2004. Last week it was 600,000 and growing. South and southeastern Mecklenburg have a big share. The ZIP codes that include Mint Hill, Matthews, the SouthPark area, Ballantyne and Pineville have about 108,550 registered voters.
Here's what Mecklenburg, Union and York officials say about who makes up the large numbers registered to vote:
Mecklenburg: Of the roughly 600,000 registered, 270,180 are Democrats, 181,903 Republican, 149,490 unaffiliated. By race, 385,149 are white, 176,607 African American. Hispanics were not specifically designated. By gender, 267,447 were men and 326,801 women.
Union: About 118,650 registered last week, up from 82,298 registered voters in 2004. By party, 37,735 Democrats, 52,586 Republicans and 28,260 unaffiliated. By race, 99,899 white and 13,917 African American. Some 62,392 were women, 55,385 men.
York: About 121,420 registered voters last week, up from 98,954 four years ago. By race, 94,637 white voters, 20,362 African American voters and 1,118 Hispanic are registered. Some 64,692 were women, 53,222 men. South Carolina does not register voters by political parties.
The totals aren't final. Elections workers were still tallying last week.
South Carolina does not have early voting, though voters who are already registered can cast absentee ballots.