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Early voting in North Carolina is underway: Here's what you need to know

More than double the amount of ballots were cast Thursday in Mecklenburg County compared to the first day of early voting in 2016.

MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. — Early voting in North Carolina for the 2020 election began Thursday, October 15 and for the first time ever Mecklenburg County is using sites like the Spectrum Center and Bank of America Stadium as polling places.

The number of ballots cast in Mecklenburg County on the first day of early voting was more than double the number of votes cast on the first day in 2016, according to Mecklenburg County Board of Elections Director Michael Dickerson.

A total of 35,212 voters cast their ballots Thursday in Mecklenburg County compared to the 13,549 in 2016, according to Dickerson.

15,598 votes were cast Thursday in neighboring Gaston County.

Across North Carolina Thursday, an estimated 272,000 ballots were cast, according to the North Carolina State Board of Elections. In 2016, that number was 166,000.

Combined with the number of returned absentee-by-mail ballots, a total of 826,285 ballots have been cast in North Carolina thus for for the 2020 election, according to state data Thursday. That's about 11.3% of all registered North Carolina voters.

The statewide number of submitted ballots had surpassed one million by Friday.

RELATED: More than 1 million North Carolinians have already voted in the 2020 election

New early voting sites opened in Mecklenburg County

Voters eager to cast their ballot began lining up at polling locations in Mecklenburg County hours before doors opened.  A line of people standing several feet apart could be seen lined up outside Bojangles Coliseum early Thursday morning. 

Bank of America Stadium and the Spectrum Center in Uptown Charlotte are also being used as early voting locations this year.  Spectrum Center has nearly three dozen polling stations for voters. Voters who use the site also have access to free parking in the "Center City Green" parking deck.

Once doors opened, there was almost no line all morning at Spectrum Center.

Ethel Thompson came out to cast her ballot at Spectrum Center on the first day of early voting. She said she was surprised that there was no line.

"No longer than 15 minutes,” Thompson said of her experience voting. “That's how quick it was. It was easy."

Other early voting sites, such as the former Wells Fargo building in Southpark, had people spaced out in a socially distanced line around the building. But even though the line appeared long, voters said it moved quickly.

“It was terrific,” said Cathleen Singletary. “This was a particularly good spot because there was shade, and the line went quickly and people were nice and there was good spacing.”

How and when you can early vote in North Carolina

The early voting period runs from October 15 through October 31. Early voting hours are 8 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. during weekdays. On weekends, early voting sites are open until 3 p.m. on Saturday and 5 p.m. on Sundays.  In total, there are 33 early voting sites across Mecklenburg County. Thursday, October 15 and October 31 are expected to the busiest days of early voting, and the shortest lines are predicted to be in the middle of the day.

Check out the WCNC Charlotte Decision 2020 Election Guide

Mecklenburg County Director of Elections Michael Dickerson said they are taking every precaution to keep poll workers, staff, and voters safe.

"We're all wearing masks,” Dickerson said. “There'll be sneeze guards up, face shields. You'll have hand sanitizer at all these places. The queuing up, the machines will not be next to each other. They'll be six feet apart from everyone."

Remember, during early voting you don't have an assigned polling location. You can vote at any "early voting" location in the county where you’re registered.

If you missed the registration deadline, you can still register to vote in person at one of the early voting sites starting Thursday. If you are planning to same-day register, you'll need to bring proof of residency. 

Social distance measurements will be in place and face coverings are required at all polling sites. Text VOTE to 704-329-3600 to receive a link to the WCNC Charlotte 2020 Election Guide. You can also text any election-related questions you have.

RELATED: Record 10 million people have already voted in 2020 election

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