UPDATE: Early voting began at nine polling places in Wake County on Thursday morning. At Chavis Community Center in Southeast Raleigh, the line of voters stretched around the building when the polls opened at 9 a.m., and some waited an hour and 15 minutes to cast their ballots.
“I am tired of this election, really. That’s why I am out here,” voter Carmen Rooks said outside the community center. “I’m tired of MSNBC, CNN, I’m tired of the whole thing. I think this has been the worst campaign I have ever seen and I just want to get it over with.”
“After today I am tuning out everything.”
There was also a line outside the building at the Wake County Board of Elections office on Salisbury Street, where Democratic gubernatorial candidate Roy Cooper voted Thursday morning.
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Election season in North Carolina has entered its final lap, with voters going to the polls to choose candidates in hotly contested races from president and U.S. senator down the ballot to district court judge. That includes Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s re-election bid that pits him against Cooper, North Carolina’s attorney general.
During the state’s 17-day early voting period, also called one-stop voting, registered voters can cast ballots at designated sites in their counties before Election Day, Nov. 8. People not previously registered can register and vote in one trip.
One-stop voting started in 2000 and over the years has become a popular alternative to voting on Election Day. In 2012, nearly 61 percent of general-election voters cast early ballots, either in person or by mail.
Voters like the convenience, and campaigns encourage it, said David McLennan, a political science professor at Meredith College in Raleigh.
Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump and their surrogates are encouraging their supporters to vote early.
“It’s sort of a theory of political operatives that sooner is better,” McLennan said.
Voters at the Lake Lynn Community Center in North Raleigh at mid-morning found about 200 people in line, and the wait up to an hour. The parking lot was full and cars were lined up a quarter-mile in both directions around the Ray Road entrance.
For Lawana Harris of Raleigh, it was a return visit after inadvertently showing up one day early on Wednesday. She said she had posted a selfie on Facebook bragging about being the first one in line at 7 a.m., prepared to work remotely on conference calls by computer as she waited.
But after no one else showed up by 9 a.m.: “It was red flag, red flag, hello! I get an A for effort but otherwise, not so much.”
She was less ambitious on Thursday, joining the line for about a 45-minute wait.
Candidates and campaign workers worked the crowd, and one volunteer pumped the crowd up with cheers. The atmosphere was relaxed and friendly, but Eva Davis of Raleigh said she was concerned about having to stand in line too long with a cane. “I vote early every time, but I wasn’t expecting this many people,” Davis said.
Candidates at the Lake Lynn center included Rep. Gary Pendleton, House candidate Joe John and Sen. John Alexander.
“I wish everyone well. It’s a pretty day, people are pretty passionate and that's good for everybody,” said Alexander, a Raleigh Republican. Earlier in the day, Cooper showed up at the center to meet with supporters and canvass the neighborhood.
“I’m surprised at the turnout,” said Judy Crenshaw of Raleigh. “But then I’m not surprised — everybody has to vote this time.”
Students at Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C. Central University in Durham, and Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte will lead marches to the polls Thursday, as will NAACP branches in three counties.
Barack Obama’s presidential campaign used early voting effectively in 2008 in the state, and built a substantial lead before Election Day. Though Republican opponent John McCain won more votes on Election Day, they were not enough to overtake Obama. The Democrat won the state by about 14,000 votes.
Four years later, President Obama won 53.6 percent of the early vote in losing the state to Republican Mitt Romney by 92,000 votes.
In a call with reporters last week, Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook drew parallels with the 2008 experience, saying the presidential race could again be decided in North Carolina before Election Day if Clinton builds an insurmountable lead.
Democrat Clinton has a 2.6 percentage point lead over Republican Trump in the polling average as measured by RealClearPolitics.
Trump holds a rally near Asheville on Friday. Democrat Hillary Clinton is scheduled to be in the state Sunday. Her running mate, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, will campaign in Charlotte and Durham on Thursday. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, the Republican vice presidential nominee, was in the state on Tuesday.
Voting is easier in the general election than it was for the March primaries. A federal appeals court in July struck down the state’s broad new elections law that required photo identification, shortened the early voting period, and prohibited out-of-precinct voting.
Most voters are not required to show a photo ID. People registering to vote, and some first-time voters, have to show either ID or a document with their address.
Record flooding in eastern counties presented elections officials with new challenges. Most of the previously announced one-stop locations those counties were scheduled to be open. Two sites, one in Lenoir County and one in Columbus County, were moved.
Wake County was to have nine early voting sites open Thursday and then expand locations to 20 sites for the last 10 days of early voting, which ends Nov. 5.
Wake officials had said lines are shorter in the early days of early voting and tend to be longer in the last three days.
Staff writers Craig Jarvis, Ethan Hyman and Jim Morrill contributed to this report
Where to vote
Wake County will have nine early voting sites open Thursday and will expand locations to 20 sites for the last 10 days of early voting, which ends Nov. 5.
The Wake County Board of Elections headquarters at 337 S. Salisbury St. will be open from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Fridays, 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m. this Saturday and Oct. 29, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Nov. 5, and 1 p.m.-5 p.m. on Sundays.
The other eight Wake sites opening Thursday are: the Apex Community Center, 53 Hunter St.; Avery Street Recreation Center Annex, 201 Avery St., Garner; Chavis Community Center, 505 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Raleigh; Eastern Regional Center, 1002 Dogwood Drive, Zebulon; Herbert C. Young Community Center, 101 Wilkinson Ave., Cary; Lake Lynn Community Center, 7921 Ray Road, Raleigh; Northern Regional Center, 350 E. Holding Ave., Wake Forest; and W.E. Hunt Recreation Center, 301 Stinson Ave., Holly Springs.
They will be open from 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday; 8:30 a.m.-2 p.m. this Saturday and Oct. 29; 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 5, and 1 p.m.-5 p.m. on Sundays.