If Mount Airy’s streets seemed a little barren Monday, it was likely because of crowds venturing to the city’s early voting site to cast ballots in the general election.
Even before the 9 a.m. opening of the polling location at the Surry County Human Services Center, on State Street behind Arby’s, people already were lined up to make their choices.
“It was packed when I got here this morning,” said Van Cooke, a former county commissioner candidate who was handing out campaign literature at a Surry County Republican Party tent in the center’s parking lot.
At 10 a.m., voters were lined up all the way to the front door of the building, with the line snaking its way through an inner door and down a long hallway to the voting room. That room was a beehive of activity where those at the front of the line were being processed, then sat in a waiting area before getting their turn at one of the voting machines there.
The raw numbers reinforced the fact it was a busy day for democracy in the county’s largest municipality.
“I just checked and we have processed 460 (early voters) in Mount Airy this morning,” Surry Director of Elections Susan Jarrell reported around 11:45 a.m. But that did not come as a surprise, Jarrell added.
“We were expecting a big turnout when we opened this morning.” That was because of the widespread interest in this year’s election, headlined by the presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
“It has been steady,” Jarrell said.
An indicator of the large turnout in Mount Airy Monday was evident in the days before in Dobson, where early voting got under way more than 10 days ago ahead of Election Day on Nov. 8 — now just one week away.
“At the close of business Friday we had processed 4,602 early voters here in Dobson since Oct. 20,” Jarrell reported.
Until Monday, the Dobson polling location at the county board of elections office on the lower level of the new courthouse was the only early voting station in Surry.
In addition to the one in Mount Airy, sites opened Monday in Pilot Mountain and Elkin.
The response at those two locations was not as great as Mount Airy. “But they did have lines,” Jarrell said of early voters who greeted the openings in the other municipalities.
By about 11:45 a.m. Monday, 160 people had voted in Elkin and 95 in Pilot Mountain.
“We’ve certainly had more people already turning out that we’ve had at this time for other elections,” Jarrell said of comparisons with past years.
A “quick” process
Despite the crowds in Mount Airy, the electoral process seemed to be running smoothly — an observation confirmed by voters exiting the Surry County Human Services Center.
“I waited in line probably 10 minutes,” said Thomas Worrell of Mount Airy, who added that it took him about four minutes to actually complete the general election ballot.
Worrell, 35, who was voting for the first time ever, explained that he attempted to complete voter registration earlier in his life at a Division of Motor Vehicles office. But he later was informed that a required field in the form had been left blank, and never got around to finalizing the process.
Interest in the presidential race led to his becoming registered for this year’s election, Worrell said.
Phil Marsh and his wife Peggy of Mount Airy also were among those at the early voting site here Monday.
Marsh reported that the entire process took only about 15 to 20 minutes. “I was amazed how quick it was,” he said.
The elections director said she didn’t think anyone had waited in line for more than 20 minutes or so in Mount Airy.
Early voting will continue for the rest of this week at the Mount Airy, Pilot Mountain and Elkin sites.
All three locations will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day through Friday, and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday.
The Pilot Center of Surry Community College, located at 612 E. Main St., is hosting early voting in Pilot Mountain, while balloting in Elkin is occurring at The Elkin Center of Surry Community College at 1461 N. Bridge St.
Meanwhile, early voting is continuing at the board of elections in Dobson today through Friday from 8:15 a.m. to 5 p.m. On Saturday, early voting will be conducted there from 8:15 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The one-stop early voting process in North Carolina allows even those who aren’t registered to vote to register and cast ballots on the same day.
Those who aren’t registered will not be able to cast ballots on Nov. 8 at regular polling stations in the county.
Despite the heavy turnout so far, Jarrell is not satisfied with the numbers.
“I want more,” the elections official said.
“We hope everybody comes out and votes.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.