WASHINGTON — Early voting for the September primary election in Washington began Monday with a number of changes for voters, including new voting machines that create a paper record and more lenient registration procedures.
More people than ever can vote early this year. It's the first time previously unregistered voters will be allowed to show up and register at the polls. It's also the first time that any resident, without restrictions, can vote early.
Officials are expecting that 20 percent of voters will cast their ballots early. Overall turnout for the Sept. 14 primary is expected to be 55 percent.
Only one voting location was open Monday, in the office building that houses the city's Board of Elections and Ethics. By early morning, more than 100 people were in line waiting to vote. Most were talking about the mayor's race between Adrian Fenty and challenger Vincent Gray.
"We need a change in this city," said Sammie Whiting-Ellis, 70, who has lived in the city since the 1970s and is a Gray supporter. Whiting-Ellis said she showed up on the first day of voting because "it's important."
Gwendolyn Lowry, 52, campaigned for Fenty four years ago and is working for the mayor again this time.
"I figured the earlier I get my vote in the more time I have to canvass the area," Lowry said, adding she supported the mayor's education reforms.
Four other polling sites will open Saturday to accommodate early voters. Voters will be able to use new iVotronic machines as well as paper ballots, but only people registered with a party can vote.
Previously, only certain people could vote early, including people with disabilities or people who would be out of town on election day.
Voters are electing a delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, the city's mayor, the chairman of the city council and five of the 13 members of the District of Columbia Council. They will also be voting for a shadow representative, who will be charged with lobbying to make the district the 51st state.
Arguably the biggest race, however, is for mayor between Fenty, the incumbent, and Gray, the council chairman.
Early voting runs through Sept. 13.
The four locations that open Sept. 4 are the Chevy Chase Community Center, Hine Junior High School, Southeast Tennis and Learning Center, and Turkey Thicket Recreation Center.