Early voting for the Nov. 3 general election has been record-breaking for Gwinnett County.
The county has been setting “same day” records, i.e. Day One versus Day One, Day Two versus Day Two and so on. On Friday alone, more than 12,000 Gwinnett voters cast early voting, also known as advance-in-person, ballots.
“Every day this week, Day One, Day Two, Day Three has been a record compared to Day On, Day Two, Day Three of the others,” county spokesman Joe Sorenson said. “I don’t know if we’ll keep that up or not.”
As of the end of Friday, a total of 49,505 Gwinnett voters had cast ballots in person during the first five days of early voting for this year’s general election.
A big part of why each day of early voting this year has set same day records for voter turnout is that this year marked the first time that Gwinnett has opened all of its satellite early voting sites for all three weeks of the early voting period.
This year also saw the county opening more early voting sites, nine in all, than ever before.
During the first week of early voting ahead of the 2016 general election — when Gwinnett made national headlines for long early voting waits — there was only one early voting location open. It was the same story during the first week of early voting for the 2018 general election.
But this year is also unique in that the COVID-19 pandemic is driving higher absentee-by-mail participation. As a result, county officials are having a hard time predicting what will happen with in-person versus mail-in voting with this election.
“All bets are off in 2020 as far as trying to predict based on patterns of other elections,” Sorenson said.
On Monday, early voting began with 8,703 ballots cast on Day One, when there were reports of lines that lasted up to eight hours at voting sites in the county.
By comparison, Day One of early voting for the 2016 general election saw 1,490 voters cast ballots while Day One of early voting the 2018 general election saw 2,471 ballots cast.
On Tuesday, there were 7,955 ballots cast, compared to 1,584 ballots cast on Day Two of 2016 general election early voting and 4,746 on the same day of the 2018 general election early voting period.
On Wednesday, there were 8,593 ballots cast. There were 1,844 ballots cast on Day Three of 2016 general election early voting and 7,136 on the same day of the 2018 general election early voting period.
On Thursday, 11,612 people cast ballots through early voting. There were 2,036 ballots cast on Day Four of 2016 general election early voting and 9,363 on the same day of the 2018 general election early voting period.
On Friday, 12,723 ballots were cast through early voting in Gwinnett. By comparison, There were 2,024 ballots cast on Day Five of 2016 general election early voting and 11,896 on the same day of the 2018 general election early voting period.
As the daily totals have increased this week, however, the wait times have actually gotten shorter. Around 4 p.m. on Friday, for example, the longest wait was an hour and 30 minutes. On Monday, at that time of day, the wait was several hours longer.
In addition to sheer volume of voters — who have to be socially distanced in line because of the pandemic — issues seen earlier in the week had stemmed from problems with the check-in process, including the system running slow and kicking some operators out. State officials worked on the system and Gwinnett added two check-in and issuing stations and five voting stations at the early voting site located at the county’s elections headquarters.
“Every day has been better than Monday, but Tuesday wasn’t a whole lot better,” Sorenson said. “Wednesday was a little bit better and (Thursday) was our first day that felt very smooth. The state had done a reboot of their system and I think had done some work on it. I think that really helped out a lot.”
But, while this week’s numbers are same day turnout records, they are not actually the highest numbers ever seen during early voting. They are dwarfed by some of the numbers seen during later parts of early voting for the 2018 general election.
An incomplete report from that election’s early voting period shows there were 49,840 ballots cast on a single day in the middle of the second week of early voting.
One thing the reports from previous elections does show, however, is that the daily voting total more or less increase each day of early voting so Gwinnett County could still set a new record this month for highest-ever single-day turnout for any day of early voting.
At the same time, Gwinnett is issuing record numbers of absentee-by-mail ballots this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. By Friday morning, county officials had processed and issued 157,484 absentee-by-mail ballots.
“It could go up,” Sorenson said of the daily early voting totals. “It’s hard to tell because we’ve issued so many absentee-by-mail ballots. The question is will we still have the patterns we’ve had with prior elections, or what are we going to see?
“Are we going to see lighter day of, or are we going to see a continued push on advance-in-person and then a heavy day of and we won’t get our absentee-by-mail back — people will be surrendering (or canceling) them? We are encouraging people to, if they’ve gotten their ballot, they have their absentee-by-mail ballot, to vote that because it will make everything else more efficient as far as voting goes.”