Turnout for Saturday early voting in next month's midterm election exceeded turnout for the same day in the 2016 presidential election.
In that election, 3,511 Cobb voters turned out on the last Saturday of early voting to cast their ballots for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. This Saturday, 3,724 voters showed up to vote for Georgia's next governor and a host of other positions.
Many came to the main elections office on Whitlock Avenue in Marietta before the doors opened at 8 a.m., and by 8:30, the line was already wrapping around the front of the building.
Voters who spoke with the MDJ were in high spirits in spite of the wait. Several said they welcomed the long lines if it meant more people were doing their civic duty. Others brought books to read or struck up conversations with the people next to them in line.
Most were expecting a wait and came bundled up against the brisk fall weather. More than a few were decked out in college sweaters or high school varsity jackets, newly eligible voters eager to make their voices heard in their first election.
Cobb Elections Director Janine Eveler said she does not have any data showing whether more first-time voters are participating in this year's early voting.
“In my experience, it’s common for first-time voters to engage in every November election,” she said.
But many young people walking to or from the polls Saturday said their generation is fired up to vote.
“I think on both sides, there's definitely a big wave of young people coming in,” said 18-year-old Charles Winsor of Marietta as he walked through the packed parking lot to the polls. “We want to be involved in the voting process.”
Winsor came home from Georgia College in Milledgeville. He and his mother, non-profit director Tracy Winsor, said they were happy to see the long lines because it meant more people were becoming engaged in the political process.
They each had a fully-charged cell phone and a hot cup of coffee to help them get through the wait, and Tracy Winsor said she was hoping it would move faster than expected.
“I was just telling him last time I got in line there,” she said, pointing toward the rear of the line. “And it was maybe an hour and a half, so hopefully it won't be too bad.”
According to the wait time tracker on the Cobb Elections website, the Winsors could have expected a wait time of up to three hours.
The early morning wait at the other polling place open Saturday, Jim R. Miller Park, was at about an hour and a half, but the two evened out at about three hours by noon.
All things being equal, the park may have still been the better choice because the line was inside the park's new climate-controlled event center.
A long row of people snaked from the front door down a hallway, into a large event room, along all four of the room's walls, back out the door, back through the hallway, into another large room where it coiled up in rows before finally depositing voters in front of the voting machines.
That line was where Ann Marie Shippee and daughter Dara Shippee were headed Saturday morning. The Shippees are from Marietta, and Dara Shippee was wearing a grey Kennesaw State University sweater. She's majoring in culinary sustainability and hospitality there.
Ann Marie Shippee, who works for an engineering firm, was planning on checking out the line, and if it was too long, maybe coming back this week when more polling locations are open.
“If it's bad, we'll wait and do it next week,” she said. “But I'm going to be out of town, so I have to, that's my problem. I work all week, so it's hard.”
But Dara Shippee seemed determined to vote. She turned 17 in 2016 so could not vote in that election, though she voted in this year's primary.
She said not all of her classmates are interested in voting but many are.
“There are some people that refuse to even go in and sign up because either A, they don't care, or B, it's too much for them, but I still think they should go in and vote for something,” she said. “It's our right as citizens. We have the right to do this, so it's important to get your voice heard.”
Several hours later, the MDJ returned to Jim R. Miller Park and caught up with two more college students who did not want to give their last names, Yinka D. and Carlton B. Both are first-time voters from Austell. Yinka goes to Georgia State University and Carlton was wearing a baseball cap with the logo of his school, Morehouse College.
The young men said their actual wait was shorter than what the website predicted, about an hour and a half compared to three hours on the site.
Yinka said he thinks he will vote early rather than on Election Day from now on.
“I heard that the wait time is less when you go early voting than when you go on Election Day, so I came with my parents and my friend,” he said. “It was fun. It was a nice experience, and I can see doing it again.”
“It was quick and worth it,” he said. “Voting is a right we have that we fought so hard to get. We should use it. So many people died for us to be able to vote, so for you to not take one day out of your time to vote is absurd.”
Back at election headquarters, Georgia Southern international studies major Byron Brown was walking toward the line after making a few rounds around the parking lot to find a place to park.
The east Cobb resident said he was considering submitting an absentee ballot, but decided to come with his mom and older brother to vote early for the first time.
“Sometimes I get negative feedback about voting, get some people who feel that the system doesn't represent them, but I try to get positive feedback more,” he said. “I do hear a mix of both, but I just try to do my part and make sure I participate.”
While Brown spoke with the MDJ, director Eveler came out of the office to survey the line. She said the last early voting Saturday is typically one of the busiest, but Saturday's crowds were beyond anything she had seen in a gubernatorial election. Still, Eveler said there was no grumpiness from the people in the queue.
“People obviously don't like to wait in line, but they're excited to participate in the process,” she said. “They're excited they got to vote.”
To those planning on voting this week in the hopes that more polling locations will mean shorter lines, Eveler had a message: don't be too sure.
“I don't really know because turnout has been higher than anything we've seen in the past for a governor's race, so it could be that it continues to be busy even though we have more locations open,” she said. “We'll have to wait and see.”
Eveler did say she expects the higher than normal early voter turnout to make Election Day more manageable.