As the early-voting period opened on Wednesday, Barbara Hampton was among the many who chose to exercise their civic duty and pushed forward to do so despite pandemic-singed circumstances.
“It is my duty to vote. I came up here to Glenview earlier and the line was so long,” said Hampton. “I thought about a mail-in ballot, but (President) Trump is trying to throw them out, and we’re trying to throw him out.
“So, I thought I would try again this afternoon. The line was much shorter. I voted already, left, and brought my mom back. She’s inside voting now.”
Long lines and packed parking lots in multiple locations pointed toward more than business as usual for a first day of early voting. Unofficially, 26,839 voters cast ballots, the highest mark (by about 50) in 12 years.
According to Suzanne Thompson, spokesperson for the Election Commission, a poll worker at Anointed Temple of Praise (ATOP) in the Hickory Hill community reported that one of the first voters at the precinct declared that she had arrived at 3 a.m. to secure a place at the front of the line.
“This morning, we also received word that a 90-year-old, first-time voter was so happy about getting the opportunity to vote that she was dancing right there inside that voting location,” Thompson said.
Another voter, according to Thompson, “happily shared” that he had waited in line for three hours.
Twenty-six locations were open throughout the county and wait times were much shorter at many of them, officials reported.
Among some of the busiest locations were ATOP, the Agricenter International in east Shelby County, Riverside Baptist Church in Whitehaven, Glenview Community Center in South Memphis, Mississippi Blvd. Christian Church in Midtown and the Dave Wells Community Center in North Memphis.
“I wanted to come out and vote on the first day. It’s important, and I wanted to avoid the long lines on Nov. 3,” said Vernita Barefield, who voted at Riverside Baptist Church. “For me, a mail-in ballot was never an option. I always cast my vote at the polls.”
The wait notwithstanding, people were clearly determined to vote. Many came prepared with folding chairs, bottles of water and umbrellas to shade them from the sun.
“There really was a marked difference in attitude,” said Linda Phillips, administrator of Elections for the Shelby County Election Commission. “Today was actually an unprecedented turnout for early voting. It was extremely satisfying to see Shelby Countians taking advantage of early voting the very first day.”
Phillips, who joined the Election Commission in the summer of 2016, said normally the first and last days of early voting are the busiest. She hopes the first-day turnout during a “new normal” will signal an overall high-voter turnout.
“We absolutely love seeing so many of our citizens get out to vote,” Phillips said. “It’s literally what we live for.”
Voters on the whole wore masks and practiced social distancing while waiting.
“There have been no problems with voters wearing masks,” Thompson said. “So far, we have received no complaints from people not wanting to wear their masks.”
As of noon Wednesday, a total of 7,697 people had voted. By 2 p.m., 12,677 people had cast their votes, compared to 2016 when 14,380 voted the entire day.
For Wayne Williams, his decision to vote on Wednesday had much to do with his granddaughter.
“I’m out here today on this very first day because my granddaughter asked me a question for a school paper. She said, ‘How is today different than the 1960s?’
“I told her everyone has the right to vote and their vote is protected by law. I have traveled. We are free to go where we want to go. When I was growing up, the only places I knew were Magnolia, Castalia and Orange Mound.”
Early voting for the Nov. 3 Election runs through Oct. 29. For a complete listing of locations and hours of operation, visit: www.shelbyvote.com.
“I had to vote today, and it has been such a beautiful day,” said Claudette Boyd. “This is our right to vote. I wanted to come to the polls and stand in line – make the sacrifice. We must fight the battle for our children and grandchildren.”