BRAD BROOKS and JOHN WHITESIDES
TEXANS have joined a wave of Americans casting ballots at a record-setting pace, jamming early-voting polling places ahead of a November 3 election showdown between Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden.
Long lines of voters snaked out the doors and down the sidewalks at polling places in cities around the state, social media videos showed, with some people showing up long before the doors opened to claim a spot.
In Georgia, where early voting began on Monday, people waited five hours or more to cast ballots in record-breaking early turnout for a state that also features two competitive U.S. Senate races.
Glitches with Georgia’s new voting machines prolonged the delays in some locations, voting rights groups said, mirroring issues that led to long lines in the state’s June primary.
With three weeks left until the election, Americans have cast more than 10 million early votes in person and by mail across the country, according to data compiled by the U.S. Elections Project.
A bitter fight for the White House and control of Congress has helped inspire the high turnout, and many Americans are casting ballots early to avoid Election Day crowds amid coronavirus safety concerns. By way of comparison, as of Oct. 16, 2016, some 1.4 million Americans had cast early votes.
“Voting as early as possible and making sure your vote counts is the best way to end the craziness of this year,” said Brandon Marcy, 40, who stood in line for 45 minutes to vote for Biden at a Lubbock, Texas, grocery store.
Tina Wilson, a 58-year-old Republican, voted for Trump in Lubbock after waiting in line for about 30 minutes. She regularly votes early but felt a more urgent need this year because of concerns about the pandemic and the logistics of voting.
“I’m ready for 2020 to be over with and I hope the election will help us move forward as a nation,” Wilson said.
Both Texas and Georgia are normally Republican-leaning but have emerged as competitive states in the presidential race this year as Biden holds a steady lead in national opinion polls over Trump and expands his campaign into new territory.
Trump won Georgia by 5 percentage points in 2016 and Texas by 9 points, but opinion polls show Biden running close in Georgia and slightly trailing Trump in Texas.
RECORD EARLY TURNOUT
In Georgia, more than 128,000 people cast ballots during Monday’s first day of in-person early voting, breaking the previous record of nearly 91,000 votes in 2016, according to the secretary of state’s office.
Almost 1.6 million absentee ballots have been requested in the state, with more than 473,000 returned and accepted. In 2016, the total number of absentee votes in Georgia was fewer than 208,000.
“Georgia is seeing record turnout for early voting because of excitement and enthusiasm of the upcoming election,” said Walter Jones, a spokesman for the Georgia Secretary of State, adding that “long lines are to be expected.”
In Texas, election officials in Harris County, which includes Houston and is the state’s most populous county, said by mid-afternoon on Tuesday that the first-day turnout had set a new record of 68,000 votes with about five hours to go until polls closed.
The surge in early voting has sparked legal battles in many states as Trump has claimed without evidence that mail ballots lead to fraud, an assertion dismissed by election experts. Democrats lost challenges to voting rules in Georgia and Texas as the early voting began in both states.
In Georgia, a U.S. district judge ruled against Democrats who proposed easing long voting lines by requiring changes including reallocating voting machines and providing backup paper ballots. The decision came after the hours-long lines on Monday.
The first-day delays in Georgia were exacerbated by breakdowns including a software problem in voting machines and glitches with the equipment used to check in voters.
In Texas, a federal appeals court late on Monday reinstated an order from Republican Governor Greg Abbott that limits absentee ballot drop-off sites to only one per county, regardless of population or size.
In Virginia, where early voting has been under way for three weeks, a cut cable caused the state’s voter registration system to crash on Tuesday, the last day to register to vote before Election Day. The Virginia Department of Elections said the site was restored at mid-afternoon. – Thomson Reuters Foundation.