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Americans So Far Have Cast Record-Breaking 62 Million Early Ballots

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Well, we are exactly one week out from the end of the election season. But we are in a whole new voting world, and at this point, more than 60 million people have already voted either at the polls or with mail-in ballots, which is the most votes ever cast before an election day. NPR's Greg Allen has the story.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Despite the record turnout, election experts say, generally speaking, early voting is going well. With so many showing up, long lines are to be expected, especially on the first day of early voting. That was the case in the Houston area, where voters waited for hours when voting began there earlier this month. At Texas Southern University, a historically Black institution in Houston, Mark Stanley wanted to cast his vote as early as possible.

MARK STANLEY: Y'all know the lines are going to be long. You know they're shutting them down a lot of locations. We only have one absentee ballot drop-off location in the entire county, which is asinine to think about. So I said instead of thinking about all the politics and thinking about how many ways they can shut your voice down, I said the best way to do it is to go out, get it taken care of already, have my mask on, make sure we're well-protected and make sure that our voice is heard properly.

ALLEN: In Texas, the lines have gotten shorter, but political and legal battles over expanding voter access led many to be suspicious of delays encountered while voting. Studies show that young people are among those voting earlier at higher rates than ever before. That's especially true in Texas, where a half million young voters have already cast ballots. In Georgia, wait times have also improved since the first day of early voting, when some waited as long as several hours to cast their ballots. In Atlanta, Adrienne Crowley said she waited for nearly two hours to vote.

ADRIENNE CROWLEY: I didn't expect to wait this long. But, you know, my grandfather was from Georgia. I would've waited all day if I had to, just from the experiences that he used to have.

ALLEN: Nationwide, so far, among states that report the information, absentee and early voting has favored Democrats. But not all the turnout is driven by Democratic enthusiasm. In Prescott, Ariz., a conservative rural area, there were lines and extended wait times at some locations. When early voting opened last week. Judy Burgess calls herself a proud Trump supporter.

JUDY BURGESS: I think the president is trying to deal with issues that - for the whole country, which would be jobs, putting people back to work, getting rid of the coronavirus. That's been a big issue with him trying to deal with that, of course.

ALLEN: As big as the turnout's been, early voting is expected to pick up in the week remaining until Election Day. In Florida, Black churches held voter drives, events called Souls to the Polls on Saturday and Sunday, with more expected next weekend.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: If you want power...

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) Free the vote.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: If you want power...

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) Free the vote.

ALLEN: In Orlando, a rally with music and food trucks was held outside an arena that's been open for early voting. Renee Stephens said she was there to vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

RENEE STEPHENS: The issue for me now - obviously, the pandemic hit hard - so the employment issue, any help for unemployment, for housing, the financial situation.

ALLEN: Based on the unprecedented turnout so far, this doesn't appear to be a year in which many are taking their votes for granted. That's certainly the case for Chernise Sesler.

CHERNISE SESLER: Being able to vote, period. I never voted before in my life. I'm 43 years old. So just to have the privilege to vote, you know? So it's a blessing to me, man.

ALLEN: Sesler is one of tens of thousands of people with past felony convictions who recently regained the right to vote in Florida after an initiative led to the repeal of a Reconstruction-era law. Desmond Meade led the drive to get the measure approved. He voted this weekend in what he said was his first-ever presidential election.

DESMOND MEADE: So many people have died and gone through hell just so we can have the right to vote, right? And this is something that we should be - that should be treasured. This is something that should be valued.

ALLEN: This election, among people voting early, that certainly seems to be the case. Greg Allen, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF TIMECOP1983'S "ON THE RUN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.