Concerns about mail-in voting and COVID-19 have created a sense of urgency among millions of Americans who have chosen to vote early in this years' election. The state of Georgia, specifically, has seen a record number of early voters, but in certain counties, voters have had to wait several hours to cast their ballots.
Johnta Austin of Atlanta, Georgia is one of many Americans who woke up before dawn to vote. Austin arrived at his polling site Oct. 12 –– the first day of early voting –– in Cobb County just after 7 a.m. only to find what he estimated was at least 200 people standing ahead of him in line.
"The first woman in line apparently got there at 4:30 a.m.," he told Inside Edition Digital. "Voting has always been personal to me. I remember hearing my grandfather tell stories of him and John Lewis marching for voters' rights. My family put their lives on the line to vote."
The first two hours flew by, Austin admitted, whose self-made schedule as a singer and songwriter allowed him to take time to vote. "I was reading my book," he said, "and I texted my wife predicting I would be out the door by noon."
Nearly 10 hours and 45 minutes later –– just around 6 p.m., Austin finally cast his ballot. A video of Austin waiting in line with fellow voters went viral on Twitter –– even attracting the attention of former President Barack Obama who re-tweeted his post.
"Now at 11hrs in line but we are next!" he wrote. "A long journey but wouldn’t be anywhere else! Please vote everyone!"
Austin said that everyone should vote but it "definitely should not take that long," he said adding "but even if it's 11 hours, at least I wasn't called names or threatened with violence."
On the same day, about 25 minutes away, Matt Stevens an adjunct professor, also of Atlanta, waited in line for five hours. Stevens arrived at his polling station, just seven minutes away from his home, at 9:30 a.m. prepared to confront the long and winding lines.
"I grabbed my folding chair and got in line," he said. " I was anticipating the wait –– but I don't know if I was anticipating 300 people ahead of me."
The site where Stevens voted had 18 ballot marking devices, nine processing stations and 12-to-14 people, including poll workers, working the site, a spokesperson from the Fulton County Board of Elections confirmed.
Stevens, 40, said he "never" considered leaving his spot in line. "Early voting doesn’t always look extremely crowded and with long lines the way it’s been reported. It's not like that every day," he said.
Many of the more crowded polls in the state of Georgia are in Black neighborhoods across the state –– including Union City a southern suburb outside Atlanta, which is in Fulton County where there are an estimated 22,000 people assigned to three polling places this year, NPR reported. Union City has 22,400 residents, about 88 percent of which are Black.
"Georgia is definitely becoming a battleground state," said Stevens who says he has hardly missed an election since he was 18. "Voting in and of itself is a pretty sticky issue in Georgia for African Americans."
While Georgia gained nearly 2 million voters, polling locations statewide have been cut 10 percent, according to an analysis of state and local records by Georgia Public Broadcasting and ProPublica. More than 90 new voting locations were added this month, but many residents have been uncertain where to vote, NPR reported.
According to the Board of Elections, Georgians are able to vote at any site within their county –– but even with more than 90 new voting locations added this month, many residents have been unclear on where to vote, NPR reported.
"We are encouraging people to look at lines at other precincts," Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said Wednesday, Oct. 14, the third day of early voting in the state, adding that certain polling sites in counties like Fulton and Cobb, cannot sustain more machines.
There are a total of 159 counties in Georgia, all of which have been looking for ways to add additional machines to their spaces.
In the metro area of Atlanta, namely, Fulton, Gwinnett, Forsyth, DeKalb, Cobb, Hall, Cherokee, Henry and Clayton — are all counties that have nearly half of the state's active voters but only 38 percent of the polling places, according to an analysis.
Despite the shortcomings, Georgia has seen early voters come out in record numbers.
Two days into early voting in Georgia, over 700,000 voters had cast their ballots. Including nearly a quarter-million who voted in person.
"[At the beginning] certain polling locations had longer waiting lines," a spokesperson for Raffensperger told Inside Edition Digital. But a few days into early voting, "the wait time dramatically cut down."
One voter in Fulton County timed himself –– and posted to Twitter that he waited 7 minutes and 43 seconds to get into a polling site on Sunday.
"It's an issue of capacity," the secretary of state said, referencing the time it took for votes to be processed. "When everyone shows up at 7 a.m., it's a high capacity."
"We also have to look at the pandemic. The machines have to be cleaned down and wiped. It's a slower more cumbersome process through the pandemic."
As of Oct. 25, over 2,700,000 Georgians cast their ballots early –– 1,794,794 of which were cast in person, according to the Board of Elections.