After a marathon campaign, voters across North Carolina braved long lines to cast their ballots as early voting opened Thursday.
Mecklenburg County election officials said voters began lining up before 6:30 a.m., an hour and a half before polling sites opened. At Charlotte’s University City library, some waited in line for more than two hours.
As contentious campaigns for president, governor and U.S. Senate neared their finish, some voters were just ready for it to be over.
“Voting is the equivalent of the shower we all needed after the three (presidential) debates,” Gregory Weeks, chairman of UNC Charlotte’s political science department, said after waiting two hours to cast his ballot.
More than six in 10 N.C. voters are expected to cast ballots before Election Day, most through early voting. State elections officials said sites will be open for more than 42,400 hours statewide – a 16 percent increase over 2012. There are 444 early-voting sites, a jump of 21 percent.
Mecklenburg’s 2,780 early-voting hours represent a slight increase over 2012 but a larger increase over what the Republican-led county elections board approved in August. That’s because the state board rejected the county’s original plan and approved additional hours.
Local officials had to go back to the drawing board on early voting after federal judges threw out the state’s 2013 voting law which, along with requiring a voter ID, set the number of early voting hours. The ruling extended the early vote period from 10 days to 17.
The court also reinstituted same-day registration. Mecklenburg elections board spokeswoman Kristin Mavromatis said 10,000 people registered at early voting sites in 2012.
Presidential race a draw
Across the state, voters were eager to finally cast a ballot.
Long lines were reported in the state’s most urban counties. Even rural counties such as Jones and Transylvania had dozens of people waiting at a time.
“We’re thrilled with what’s going on,” Mavromatis said. “This is not surprising to us. The first day is always huge. Our hope is that people will come out tomorrow because there’s always a drop off, and we hope there’s not.”
Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine stopped at an early voting site in Charlotte, uptown’s Hal Marshall Annex, during a visit to the city. Eric Trump, son of the GOP presidential candidate, and his wife Lara will visit the Morrison library early voting site Friday morning at 9 a.m. before traveling to Gastonia and Statesville.
Mecklenburg officials said lines were longer at some of the 10 early voting sites than others, though they generally moved steadily. They hoped to match the 15,000 people who voted on the first day of early voting in 2012.
“I just wanted to get it out of the way,” said Kevin Lawhorn, a 57-year-old truck driver who voted at University City. “Basically can’t wait til it’s over.”
A day after the final debate between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, the presidential campaign drew the most interest from many voters.
Don Ricci, a 64-year-old security company owner, waited in line to vote for Trump. Of Clinton, he said, “You’re looking at somebody who’s made a lot of bad decisions.”
“If I did a fraction of what she did, I’d be in jail,” said Ricci, a former Army Ranger.
At Beatties Ford library, Barbara Wills couldn’t wait to vote against Trump.
“He’s the antiChrist,” said Wills, 72, a retired nurse. “I’m afraid if he gets in he’s going to push the button and annihilate all of us.”
Interest in governor’s race
The race between Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper drew voters such as investment analyst Pamela Barnett, 34.
“He completely changed,” she said of McCrory. “He’s not the same man he was when he was mayor of Charlotte. It seems like he may have some outside interests pushing him.”
But Chad Dudley, a 40-year-old financial crimes analyst for a bank, voted for McCrory and every other Republican.
“Overall, he’s still the best choice,” Dudley said.
Mortgage banker Johnny Johnson was surprised to see the line outside Morrison library Thursday morning. Then he realized it was moving faster than he thought. Thirty minutes later, he’d voted.
“I was very pleased and am so happy to have accomplished my duty!” he said.