One-stop, early voting for this year’s general election had a strong start Thursday, with about 500 people casting ballots by noon at the Wilkesboro Civic Center on School Street and about 425 by 2 p.m. at the Edwin McGee Natural Resources Center on Fairplains Road, North Wilkesboro.

There were reports of voters waiting as long as an hour to cast ballots due to the long line at the Wilkesboro Civic Center soon after it opened at 8 a.m. Thursday. From the front door, the line at times extended out the front porch and through the parking lot to dumpsters at the southern edge of the parking lot.

This resulted partly from COVID-19-related restrictions on the number of people allowed in the building at one time and from social distancing between people waiting to vote.

When a little over 400 ballots were cast by noon at the Wilkes County Office Building on the first day of one-stop, early voting in 2016, Wilkes Board of Elections Director Kim Caudill said it was the biggest starting turnout yet for early, one-stop voting in Wilkes. There was only one polling site in Wilkes for the first eight days of one-stop early voting in 2016, but five for the last four days.

This year, the State Board of Elections approved a request from the Wilkes Board of Elections allowing only two early voting sites in Wilkes instead of the three that otherwise were required.

The state board okayed the Wilkes board’s request for a waiver from an order requiring at least one early polling sites for every 20,000 registered voters as of July 11. This ratio was intended to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Caudill said the waiver was sought because voter registration in Wilkes exceeded 40,000 by only 1,597 on July 11. She said it also was requested because of the difficulty of finding enough election site staff, especially since additional workers were needed to maintain COVID-19 safety measures. Caudill also said virus concerns reduced interest in the jobs. She said it’s been is hard to find buildings that accommodate the safety measures.

Voter registration in Wilkes stood at 43,106 immediately after the Oct. 9 deadline for registering to vote on Election Day (Nov. 3). Republican registration in Wilkes increased by 1,058 to 23,048 and unaffiliated registration grew by 453 to 11,667. Democratic registration decreased by 40 to 8,184.

Most voters were wearing masks when they arrived at the Wilkesboro Civic Center and the McGee Center Thursday morning, but masks and hand sanitizer were available onsite. Tape on the floors helped people know where to stand. Many poll workers sat behind clear plastic screens.

One-stop, early voting in Wilkes continues through Oct. 31 from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on weekdays; 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17, and Saturday, Oct. 24; and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 31.

To reach the Wilkesboro Civic Center, turn onto School Street from N.C. 268 West (River Street) and look for it on the left after about a half mile. It’s just before Wilkesboro Elementary School and a short distance beyond the N.C. Driver’s License Examiner office.

The McGee Center can be reached from N.C. 268 East or N.C. 18 North.

From N.C. 18 North, turn east onto Fairplains Road a little less than a mile and the McGee Center will be on the right. To reach the McGee Center from N.C. 268 East, turn north on Fairplains Road just west of Blevins Building Supply and the McGee Center will be on the left after about a mile.

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