ATLANTA - Voters stood in long lines at polling places around the state Monday as early voting began in Georgia for the 2016 election.
In Fulton, Gwinnett, DeKalb and Cobb counties, we found people waiting for hours to cast their ballots in one of the most hotly contested presidential elections in memory.
Elections officials in Gwinnett County told Channel 2’s Tony Thomas they were a bit surprised at the high turnout for the first day of early voting, but they expect long lines for the next three weeks, up until Election Day.
"We voted 1,580 people today here," said Gwinnett County Communications Director Joe Sorenson.
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Michelle Marshall told Thomas on Monday she was trying to make the best of growing lines as she waited at the two-hour mark for a chance to cast her ballot.
Voters started lining up outside the Gwinnett County Board of Voter Registration and Elections in Lawrenceville at 6:30 a.m. The doors opened at 8.
“What drew you two today to get out here so quickly?” Thomas asked Marshall.
“Cause it's the first day and I had to bring my son,” Marshall said, telling Thomas her son flew back from Orlando just to vote.
For the first two weeks of early voting, Gwinnett County has only one location open during business hours. Seven other locations will open in the final days before Election Day.
"We definitely never had a line like this," Sorenson told Channel 2’s Rikki Klaus. “I think a lot of people are interested in voting in this election cycle."
Bernice Goode said she was simply trying to hang on as she entered hour No. 3 of standing out in the sun.
“I think it's kind of ridiculous. There’s so many people here. They should just open it up and let 'em come inside and go on home,” Goode said.
The heat proved too much for at least three people, whom Thomas saw collapse in line.
Election officials say they hope the interest remains but the lines move a lot quicker. They say many of their poll workers are brand new.
"Especially in October when it's summer-like weather, you don't want to see that. And we're working on ways to get a little bit more efficient inside here," Sorenson told Klaus.
In Cobb County, people flooded into the Cobb County Civic Center in Marietta, one of two locations currently available for early voting in the county.
“We do see an increase of people that come out on the first day,” Cobb County elections director Janine Eveler told Channel 2’s Wendy Corona.
The first day of voting was a double milestone for Grace Shickler.
“Nothing compares to voting for the next president on your 50th birthday,” Shickler told Corona.
By noon, the board of elections estimated it had already serviced about 1,000 at the Civic Center and warns of peak numbers not only on day one but also during the last week before Election Day.
Theresa Jenkins told Corona she always makes it a point to early vote.
“This is the most crowded I've ever seen it. Took us over two-hours in the line to vote and the line is much further along now than it was when we got here,” Jenkins said.
Some people decided to try again another day, saying the wait time was too much to bear.
“If this was Election Day, unfortunately, some might not have been able to cast their vote,” voter Scott Shickler said.
Voters can also choose to wait until Election Day and vote at their assigned voter precinct when lines may not be as long.
“I'm really pleased that people are taking it seriously enough to get out right now,” Grace Shickler said.
Eveler said her office was aiming to have wait times posted online by the end of business Monday.
Election officials expect lines every day so they say be prepared when you get to the polling location with your sample ballot, which helps moves the line along when you finally get inside.
Beside the presidential elections, there's also a statewide vote for U.S. Senate, a contested seat on the Georgia Public Service Commission, and a smattering of contested races for local leaders, ranging from Georgia Legislature to county commissioner to sheriff.
Georgia voters will also decide on four proposed constitutional amendments and county-specific issues.
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