Hattie Redfearn waited a little more than an hour to vote an early voting site in Charlotte on Thursday, North Carolina’s first day of in-person early voting.
“We didn’t want our ballots to get lost, misplaced, thrown in the trash or whatever’s going on, so to be on the safe side just come on in — stand in line, be prepared and here we are,” Redfearn said.
As the Covid-19 pandemic escalated, many states eased their requirements for voters to cast absentee ballots, and some states changed their laws to conduct the 2020 election almost completely through the mail.
A record-setting year
The 2020 election will smash records for mail-in voting due to the pandemic, as requests for mail-in ballots have broken records in state after state, and nine states plus the District of Columbia are voting primarily by mail.
But the hours-long waits during early voting in states like Georgia, Virginia and Texas are showing that some voters may be rethinking the plans to send their ballot through the mail.
“It sucks, but you know I’d rather be out here doing my civic duty than not, I don’t trust the whole mail-in voting thing,” said Sean Terrell, who had been waiting in line at an Atlanta polling place for two hours on Tuesday, the state’s second day of early voting. “So I will be here and I will sign it and make sure it goes where it needs to go.”
Asked why she wasn’t just voting by mail, Terrell said, “I mean, there’s the system has proven itself dis trustworthy thus far, just throughout history and, especially given our current administration.”
Jim O’Conner was one of the first to cast ballots in Fairfax, Virginia, when in-person voting opened last month. Asked why he was voting in-person, he said, “I don’t trust the mail right now. That’s why, If I’ve got to stand here all day, I’m going to vote today.”
It’s hard to calculate whether the early enthusiasm among those casting in-person ballots will put a dent in the number of people who will vote by mail, but it’s a question that comes with political implications.
In all, the poll found, 65% of Trump voters intended to cast their ballots on election day in person. Biden voters were more split, with 43% planning to vote by mail, 26% at an early voting location and 29% in person on election day.
Shifting from mail-in to in-person
States are reporting significant vote counts both for ballots cast by mail and early voting. On its first day of in-person early voting, North Carolina state board of elections reported 230,000 ballots were cast, while more than 550,000 absentee ballots had been accepted since mail-in voting began there last month.
Georgia reported as of Thursday it had accepted more than 540,000 absentee ballots, while more than 375,000 voters had cast ballots at early voting locations. And New Mexico reported it had received 72,000 absentee ballots and just under 70,000 votes in person. Two-thirds of absentee ballots in New Mexico were cast by registered Democrats, while registered Republicans slightly outnumbered Democrats voting in person, 34,000-to-28,000.
Wisconsin’s chief election official, Meagan Wolfe, said she has not seen a decreased interest in absentee ballots due to the issues with Postal Service, but she has seen an increased interest from people requesting absentee ballots electing to return them in person rather sending them through the mail.
That was the case in Michigan at a Detroit satellite election office earlier this month, where Marilyn Taylor brought her absentee ballot to turn in rather than sending it through the mail.
“I dropped off my ballot. I put in the voter box because I didn’t trust the US mail,” Taylor said.
Another Michigan voter, Katherine Porter, offered a similar explanation why she was turning in her ballot directly to the satellite office instead of using the mail.
“I feel like it’s safer,” she said. “And it’s the first time I ever did this so, I just hope my vote counts.”
Michigan does not have early voting sites like Georgia and other states, but it allows voters to turn in absentee ballots in person at a local clerk’s office, and the state has made an effort to open up more locations for voters to drop off absentee ballots or fill them out in-person. Detroit opened up 23 satellite voting centers on October 5 for people to register to vote or turn in their absentee ballot.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said it was her job to make citizens aware of the options that they have to vote and ensure they’re confident in the process.
“We know that many other voices out there have been trying to you know deter some people from feeling safe with one option or the other, and my job similarly is to counter that noise with accurate information” Benson said.
But Benson also emphasized that voters who choose to vote by mail should do so early — if it gets within two weeks of Election Day, she said, voters should return their absentee ballots in-person.
“We don’t want them to wait to the last minute to either request to return their ballot through the mail,” Benson said.
CNN’s Dianne Gallagher, Annie Grayer, Ellie Kaufman, Amara Walker, Kristen Holmes, Adam Levy, Harry Enten and Marshall Cohen contributed to this report.