‘It moves very quickly’: Long lines at early voting precincts a common sight across the Tri-Cities

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Early voting is underway across the Tri-Cities. Voting began on October 14th and ends on the 29th and there is still plenty of time to get to the polls and cast your vote, however, long lines may be discouraging some voters from doing so.

Three early voting precincts are open in Washington County, Tennessee, all of which have seen quite the crowd since voting opened. As of 10 a.m. on Tuesday, all three facilities had seen over 11,600 voters.

Turnout has been called “amazing” by Washington County Tennessee Election Commission Deputy, Leslie Lacy.

She said total registration for Washington County surpassed 83,000 with a significant amount of people registering in the county for the first time.

“We have people who have never voted in their entire life, in their 80’s, come out and register to vote, and it’s exciting to see that, it really is,” said Lacy.

Lacy said they’ve also seen a significant jump in absentee ballot requests in comparison to recent years, with 5,400 being sent out and 3,600 returned as of Tuesday morning.

She said if you have physical restraints or time constraints, there is still time to register for an absentee ballot.

As far as voting in person, the three precincts open in Washington County have seen significantly long lines. However, just because the line is long, doesn’t mean it will take forever.

Regardless, the fastest way to get through the line is to have your identification ready and allow yourself extra time in case it does take longer.

“I would allow a good half hour. It might take a few minutes longer, you might get through a lot quicker. It’s really going to depend on how fast voters come through,” said Lacy.

Sullivan County is also seeing significant lines, however, while the line may look discouraging, in most cases, it’s not that long.

“They’ve got to remember that there is social distancing in place so the lines look longer and it kind of plays a mental trick on you in a way that makes you think you’re going to have to wait here for hours, but it moves very quickly,” said Sullivan Co. Administrator of Elections, Jason Booher.

Booher said the safety markers separating people by 6 feet make the lines look longer than they truly are. In 2016, Sullivan County saw record turnout and despite COVID-19, officials believe they will achieve the same numbers if not better.

With 107,000 registered voters in Sullivan County, so far excess of 15,000 have hit the polls to cast their ballots.

Booher said he also expects to triple their record for absentee ballots requested and sent in.

He said voter times in the county vary. In Kingsport, the wait can be anywhere from 45 minutes or less while in Bristol and Blountville, it ranges from 20 to 30 minutes.

At the Civic Center early voting location, there are also chairs placed frequently for those who can’t stand as long who chose to vote in person.

However, according to Tennessee state law, if you are frail, visibly pregnant, or have a disability, you can move to the front of the line and avoid the wait. Poll workers are helping in identifying those voters who may need extra assistance.

Not everyone wants to vote in person, especially with the long lines and the on-going pandemic and that’s why absentee voting is available to all this election cycle.

Mike and Betty Jackson said they have voted in every election since 1976, and this year will be the first time they cast their ballot absentee. They attribute the decision to vote absentee to the long lines but mainly COVID-19 concerns.

“It’d be tempting for us not to because of the lines, but we want to fulfill our obligation so we decided both of us, Betty and I decided, to apply for an absentee ballot,” said Jackson.

Others who decided to stick it out and wait in line said overall, it wasn’t that bad. Voters like JT Little of Kingsport are encouraging people to get to the polls and make their voices heard.

“I thought it may be longer actually. I was amazed at all the automobiles in the parking lot but once we got in the line and the process just kept moving, it was rather smooth,” said Little.

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