The first week of early voting for the November election was strong in Gregg and Smith counties, with thousands of residents casting ballots.
In the first four days, Gregg County had 15,009 voters come out across 10 polling sites. In the first three days of early voting in Smith County, 17,844 ballots were cast at seven locations, according to each elections office.
Gregg County Elections Administrator Kathryn Nealy said turnout has held steady steady since the first day Tuesday, which saw 3,959 voters come to the polls. She added turnout dropped slightly Thursday and Friday.
A total of 3,899 Gregg County residents voted Wednesday; 3,543 voted on Thursday; and 3,608 on Friday.
There has been an average of 400 people per voting location each day, according to the Gregg County Elections Office.
Nealy said the addition of five polling stations has helped tremendously.
“If we did not have those 10 locations, the lines would have been horrendous,” she said.
She strongly encouraged residents to take advantage of the extra locations and the extra week to cast an early ballot.
For those who haven’t voted, Nealy said they should come in the second week of early voting rather than the last.
“Take advantage of the second week. Whatever you do, don’t wait until Election Day,” she said.
She added people should learn which county they’re registered to vote in before coming to the polls.
The Judson Community Center was consistently been the busiest polling place all week in Gregg County, while Elderville Community Center dropped slightly after having a big turnout as a new early voting location, Nealy said.
She added one rumor going around is that a ballot becomes ineffective if it has a mark on it; however, the voting clerk must sign any paper ballot.
Another rumor is that votes by mail will not be counted, which is incorrect.
“If you voted and mailed your own ballot, it is safe and secure,” Nealy said. “The post office has been doing excellent job getting ballots to us in a timely manner.”
Nealy added that 99% of voters come into polling sites with masks and that, when offered gloves, 90% of people have chosen to wear them.
Social distancing markings are used at the voting sites, and election officials use hand sanitizer and wipes to clean surfaces, she said.
Nealy said voting machines and computers are working well.
There have been one or two incidents of poll workers requesting people to remove political-themed clothing, but the voters ended up removing the items without confrontation, Nealy said, noting most voters have been polite and kind.
Nealy explained that three workers and three machines in early voting are normal for Gregg County, and this also helps limit the number of people coming in the building for COVID-19 safety precautions.
Early voting continues through Oct. 30.