By 5 p.m. Monday, Lawrenceville resident Gail McDaniel had been waiting in a slow moving line at the Gwinnett County Elections and Voter Registrations headquarters on Grayson Highway for about six hours, and she still faced a long wait before she could get in the front door.

At that time, county officials estimated the wait time to vote at the headquarters early voting site was eight hours. When McDaniel arrived at 11 a.m., the end of line was in front of the county health department’s Lawrenceville clinic, which is next to the elections headquarters, but it snaked around the side of the building before turning around and coming back in front of the clinic.

By 5 p.m., McDaniel’s spot in the line was just getting back to the front of the clinic, and she had some choice words for county officials.

“They should have planned better,” she said. “This is voter suppression to me.”

Even with a record-setting nine early voting sites open in Gwinnett County for the first time ever, the county saw a huge turnout for the first day of early voting in the Nov. 3 general election, resulting in long lines at every site. As of 3 p.m. on Monday, 4,822 people had cast ballots at early voting sites across the county.

Tuesday brought more of the same with the headquarters location, the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds in Lawrenceville and the Mountain Park Activity Center in the Stone Mountain area each reporting waits of more than three hours by mid-morning. Bogan Park in Buford, the Dacula Park Activity Building and the Lenora Park Gym in Snellville each reported waits of at least two hours.

Lucky Shoals Park in Norcross, George Pierce Park in Suwanee and Shorty Howell Park in Duluth each had waits of more than an hour at mid-morning on Tuesday.

Although the elections headquarter’s eight-hour wait to vote on Monday was the longest wait seen in the county on Monday, every polling site reported waits of several hours on the first day of early voting.

Multiple locations reported wait times of at least three hours at various hours on Monday, and the wait at Lenora Park in Snellville late Monday afternoon exceeded four hours.

“There have been long lines everywhere and some of the locations have longer lines than other,” county spokesman Joe Sorenson said around mid-afternoon Monday. “A little while ago, we were at an hour and a half at the fairgrounds and we were at about six hours at headquarters.

“There’s just a lot of people going to the headquarters location, so really it’s volume.”

A major factor in this general election is that it is headlined by a hotly contested presidential race featuring a matchup between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. Gwinnett elections officials have frequently said over the years that presidential elections always drive significantly higher voter turnouts.

Add on to that the fact that voting is taking place amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and county officials have to make sure voters are social distancing, which means not as many voting machines can be in a location.

Gwinnett Elections Supervisor Kristi Royston said this was not only the first time Gwinnett has had nine early voting locations, but the first time all of its early voting locations have been open for the entire three weeks of early voting.

Still, it was a similar story to what was seen four years ago, when Gwinnett opened only one location on the first week of early voting for the 2016 general election, which — like this year — featured a hotly contested presidential election. Gwinnett made national headlines in 2016 after voters waited in line for hours to cast ballots during the first of early voting.

Even though the long lines were seen again on Monday, Royston said she was glad the county opted to open all of the sites for every day of early voting.

“I think it’s a great opportunity (to cast a ballot) and we know people are going to take advantage of it,” Royston said.

Not long after noon at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds in Lawrenceville, county officials were saying the wait time at that location was about two and a half hours.

Lawrenceville resident Solomon Walker said he and his kids had waited for about two hours as they approached the door to an exhibit hall where voting was taking place. Like McDaniel, Walker felt the county needed to do more to alleviate the long lines being seen at early voting sites.

“I think they should have more precincts open, a few more locations so the line doesn’t have to get so long,” he said. “I’m proud to see all of these people out here voting, but at the same time we need more locations.”

Further back in the line, Grayson resident Joellen Sheldon said she and her son, Carter, had waited in line for about an hour and 15 minutes with a little more waiting left to do.

“(It’s) not bad,” the mother said. “We’ve just been chitchatting (and) the breeze has been nice.”

Monday was the first time, Carter Sheldon and Ryan Walker, who is Solomon Walker’s son, got to vote in an election.

The Sheldons went to vote early because Carter is a freshman at the University of Alabama and was home for the weekend and decided to vote. He was concerned the amount of time it would take to request an absentee ballot, get it sent to him in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and then get it sent back would take too long.

Voting on the first day of early voting is a way to guarantee his vote would be counted, he said.

“I’m ready for it all to be over,” Sheldon said. “I’m pretty active on social media and a lot of my friends are active on social media, and it feels like everybody’s just attacking everybody.”

Ryan Walker said said he it “feels great” to be able to cast a ballot in an election.

“Getting to vote for who I want to vote for,” he said about why he looked forward to voting.

McDaniel said she spent her time in the line at the elections headquarters reading Bob Woodward’s new book on the Trump administration, “Rage,” on her phone. At one point she had her husband bring her a portable charger so she could recharge the battery and keep reading.

She had planned to cast an absentee-by-mail ballot, but she said she waited for it to arrive, but hadn’t received it, so she decided to cast an advance-in-person ballot, as early voting ballots are officially called, instead. She was not going to let anything deter her from casting a ballot in this election.

“My vote counts, my vote matters, every vote counts and I’m not going to let Trump or anybody else rob me of my right to vote,” McDaniel said.

McDaniel said the fact that so many people in Gwinnett came out for the first day of early voting shows how important the county’s residents see the election as being.

“It’s making a big statement, you know,” she said. “I think that people want to see Georgia go blue and I think we’re close and I think that Vice President Biden having Kamala Harris as his running mate really energized the Democrats and the independents and women.

“It’s just vital and I’m hoping it’s going to be such a landslide that Trump is not going to be able to cause any kind of malfeasance.”

Absentee voting is also expected to be huge in Gwinnett for this election. Royston said more than 140,000 absentee ballots had already gone in the mail to Gwinnett voters as of last Friday.

While voters were waiting in the long line in front of the elections headquarters, elections staff were behind closed doors in the back of the building entering ballots that had already been returned into the county’s system.

At this point, Royston hesitated to estimate a possible turnout number for Gwinnett in this election, but based on the number seen so far from absentee ballot requests and the turnout on Monday, she said it’s clear that it won’t be low.

“Everything is just so different this year to try to figure out where things are going to be,” Royston said. “I think it’s going to be large, but how large, I don’t know.”

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I'm a Crawford Long baby who grew up in Marietta and eventually wandered to the University of Southern Mississippi for college. Earned a BA in journalism (double minor in political science and history). Previously worked in Florida and Clayton County.

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