The Early Voter Gets To Queue

The presidential election is 12 days away, but already nearly 4 million people have voted. Early voting is so popular in Florida and some other states that election officials are having to accommodate voters who wait hours to cast their ballots.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Most Americans will go to the polls Tuesday after next. For a lot of voters, though, they're already casting ballots in Florida, Ohio, Georgia, and several other states. NPR's Greg Allen reports that lines are long, but for the most part voters are patient.

GREG ALLEN: In Georgia, early voting began a month ago. At polling locations in the Atlantic area, people are still waiting for two and three hours to cast their votes. At the West Park Government Center in Marietta yesterday, Timothy Bolton said he'd monitored the polling station for two weeks and finally decided to vote when he realized the lines weren't getting any shorter. He said he counted maybe a dozen people who left, but hundreds more who waited patiently.

Mr. TIMOTHY BOLTON: I think it can be discouraging to some, but it's not really that much of a deterrent once you decide that you want to do it.

ALLEN: So far, some 13 percent of registered voters have cast ballots in Georgia. In Florida, early voting began just this week, and the number of people coming out has exceeded expectations. In Miami-Dade County, elections officials scrambled to add machines and personnel to polling locations to speed up the process. But yesterday at a library in South Miami-Dade County, the wait was still too much for Martha Torres(ph).

Ms. MARTHA TORRES: I'm leaving.

Unidentified Woman: When are you going to vote?

Ms. TORRES: I'm going to vote some other day.

ALLEN: What did they tell you when you went in?

Ms. TORRES: Well, it's like an hour waiting in a pre-room and then going upstairs and waiting another hour. So it's like two and a half hours to vote.

ALLEN: Florida's secretary of state likes to say long lines are a sign of a healthy democracy. In Miami-Dade County, Election Supervisor Lester Sola is pleased with the big early voting turnout. He believes early and absentee voting may end up accounting for nearly half of all the ballots cast in the county this year. He's not happy, though, that Miami-Dade and other counties are limited by the state in how long polling stations can be open, just eight hours a day and a total of eight hours on the weekend. Also, he says, it's a problem that they can only be located at libraries, city halls and other official buildings where parking is sometimes scarce.

Mr. LESTER SOLA (Election Supervisor, Miami-Dade County): For us it's kind of frustrating when we have a regional center next door with ample parking, the fantastic room that we could use, but we're prohibited from doing so.

ALLEN: In Florida and elsewhere, so far more Republicans than Democrats are voting with absentee ballots. But there are many more Democrats waiting in line at early polling locations. Take North Carolina, for example, where early voting began a week ago. Nearly two-thirds of those who've come out to the polls so far have been Democrats. At a senior citizens' center in Wilmington, North Carolina, yesterday, Karen Bryant(ph) was one of them. She walks with a cane but said the long wait wasn't a problem.

Ms. KAREN BRYANT: Not with this election. Because the state of our economy, of the United States in general right now, it's just too important an election to just leave it up to chance.

ALLEN: Despite the long lines in Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina where we talked to voters yesterday, there was more enthusiasm than frustration. At the Coral Reef Library in Miami-Dade County, Arlene Heckman(ph) figured her wait would be about an hour and a half. But like most everyone else in line, she didn't seem to mind.

Ms. ARLENE HECKMAN: I think we all have a very strong opinion as to where our country needs to go. I think that there have been a lot of people who don't feel they've had their say, and they're hoping that voting and being counted this time will give them a say.

ALLEN: Another factor may be that after nearly two years of intense campaigning, voters may be more than ready to finally put the presidential election behind them. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

MONTAGNE: Read more about the battleground states in this presidential election at npr.org's online election guide.

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