Photo by Getty and treated by Denzel Boyd for COURIER
Photo by Getty and treated by Denzel Boyd for COURIER

If you’re planning to vote early, here are some tips to help ensure your wait time passes faster and in a safer manner.

The number of citizens turning out for early voting is breaking records, driven by a Democratic surge to make sure votes are counted amid a pandemic and a truculent White House administration. But the increased participation, coupled with safety precautions and a reduced number of polling sites, can mean substantially longer wait times than usual to cast ballots. 

As of Wednesday morning, more than 40 million people have voted either by mail or in person at early voting centers, according to the US Elections Project. But there are fewer volunteers this year to usher the Democratic process, as many seniors have opted out due to the risk of exposure to COVID-19. The shortage of workers has compelled some jurisdictions to consolidate polling locations.

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Technical difficulties, whether coincidental or the result of voter suppression, are also causing delays. A federal court extended Virginia’s voter registration deadline by 48 hours after a fiber optic cable was clipped, shuttering the Department of Elections website on the last day of voter registration. Georgia’s registration database to check people in for early voting kept glitching, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said, due to the high amount of traffic. And in Fort Bend County, Texas, a check-in machine error shut down four precincts on the first day of early voting. 

Regardless, Democrats are out-voting Republicans thus far; many experts believe they are reacting to President Donald Trump’s attacks on the electoral process. According to a Pew Research poll, 50% of Trump supporters plan to vote in the presidential election in person on Election Day, compared to 20% who back Joe Biden. Democrats have cast about 52% of the early votes while Republicans have cast only 36%, according to the data firm TargetSmart. Experts are expecting enthusiasm to taper off as early voting draws to a close, with another surge on the last day.

RELATED: Answered: What Is My Voter Registration Deadline?

If you’re planning to head to the polls to vote early, here are some tips shared with us from poll workers and election site volunteers to help ensure that time passes faster and in a safer manner.

Check Ahead. Counties’ Board of Elections websites have a list of voting locations and recently, many have added a tracking tool that shows current wait times so voters can choose the most convenient option accordingly.

Timing Is Everything. You’re not beating the crowd by arriving first thing in the morning. Poll workers say the longest lines are at the start of the day, because everyone else has the same idea. Lunch time is a bit better, but poll workers suggest afternoons for the fastest in and out times.

Plan B Parking. The lot or nearest parking structure to a polling center may be full. Have in mind an alternative place to park.

Pack Accordingly. Plan for a 90-minute wait on average, so if you have trouble standing for that length of time bring a lightweight portable seat. Charge up cell phones and bring water or snacks. Polls have sanitizer and wipes and all volunteers are masked. Voters are not required to wear masks in some states, but should for protection.

Looks Can Be Deceiving. Due to social distancing, lines may appear longer than they are. Voters are spaced six feet apart, and volunteers are wiping down stations between each use. Even if the line stretches down the sidewalk, chances are it will move faster than expected.

Jump the Line. In some states, you may be able to shave some time off your wait. If you requested a mail-in ballot, you can pre-fill it and bring it with you to drop off at the early voting site, though you still have to wait in line to turn it in at the registration desk.  

Senior Service. Many counties provide curbside voting so seniors don’t have to get out of their cars. They are directed to specially designated parking spaces where volunteers will check their registration, provide ballots and a single-use pen with stylus for them to take away. The availability of this service depends on where you live, so be sure to check your local elections site.

In the Booth. Disposable pens with a stylus or ballot-marking devices may be available, depending on where you live, to discourage as much skin contact with the machines as possible. Volunteers should wipe down the booths between users, but if not, it can be requested.

READ MORE: Election Day Could Turn Out to Be Election Month. Here’s What You Need to Know.