A record 14 million voters have already cast their ballots in the 2020 election, according to the U.S. Elections Project, a site that tracks voting data.
The massive number of people voting early is clear by the long lines in states such as Georgia, Texas, Ohio and Illinois this week. The lines wrapped around buildings and forced eager voters to wait for hours.
In Georgia on Monday, the first day of early in-person voting, more than 128,000 people cast their votes — far more than the 90,000 votes cast on the first day of early voting in 2016. Some people spent almost all day waiting to fill in their ballots.
One patient voter was Alexis Henshaw, a political science professor who waited nine hours in line. She says for the most part, folks waiting in line were calm and helping each other out with food and water.
“Not that people were happy about the wait, but they were pretty patient during it,” she says.
Pastor Antoinette Alvarado of Rockdale County, Georgia, shared a similar experience. She says “pleasant” voters were maintaining a friendly environment during her four and a half hour wait. Folks would hold people’s places in line if someone had to run to their car or use the restroom, she says. Alvarado’s 74-year-old mother waited, too, but got in earlier than her after age and mobility accommodations were made, she says.
Alvarado says the extensive wait times are a clear sign of voter suppression, especially in Georgia, a state that has a history of voter suppression among communities of color.
“Yes, it is a form of voter suppression when we have to wait in lines,” she says. “We don't have enough machines or machines aren't working or we don't have enough polling sites open to handle the electorate.”
Henshaw agrees. She’s lived in seven states over the course of her life and has “never seen anything like the wait” that her and her husband stood in on Monday, she says.
But she stuck it out for personal reasons. In April, her husband’s father died of the coronavirus. She says it was important for her husband’s “voice to be heard in this election.”
Given the confusion around mail-in ballots, Henshaw’s husband didn’t want to take the chance with mailing in his vote, she says.
Alvarado says she also wanted to avoid mailing in her ballot because “the rhetoric around it and the politicization of the mail-in ballot” made her feel uncomfortable. Plus, voting in person with her husband, children, sisters and nieces is a family tradition.
“We had three generations of our family who voted in person on Monday,” she says.
As a pastor, Alvarado’s seen first hand the pain and suffering of families who have lost a loved one to COVID-19 and the impact it has had on her congregation and community.
She says the coronavirus crisis’ effect on communities of color is one of the reasons she decided to wait hours in line.
“This virus is impacting communities of color in a way that has not impacted other communities,” she says. “And so it's very important to me as a pastor, a community leader and as a woman of color to have my voice heard.”
This segment aired on October 16, 2020.