NEW ORLEANS — Thousands took advantage of an expanded early voting period that opened Friday in Louisiana ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential election.

Louisiana generally allows a seven-day early voting period. It was expanded to 10 under federal court order amid disagreements among state officials over how best to make voting safer during the coronavirus pandemic.

Long lines were reported throughout the state, evidence of high interest in the presidential race pitting incumbent Republican Donald Trump against Democrat Joe Biden.

Also on the ballot are a U.S. Senate race in which Shreveport’s Democratic Mayor Adrian Perkins is challenging GOP incumbent Bill Cassidy, plus seven constitutional amendments, including one ensuring that the constitution’s language cannot be construed to grant abortion rights, and a measure in each parish to locally legalize sports betting.

But it was the presidential race that appeared to be driving interest. At New Orleans City Hall, where the line of early voters rounded a city block, Ashley Fleming said she had never before had to wait in a line to cast an early ballot.

“I think we’re having a very supercharged election this year with regard to the presidential election. I think people know what the stakes are this time around, after the past four years. I feel like people are more engaged,” she said. “They feel like the stakes are higher.”

Blocks away, at the Smoothie King Center arena, at least two voters interviewed Friday had walked away from City Hall, hoping for a shorter wait to vote.

“It was set up real nice,” said one of them, Pam Dixon, who said it took about 45 minutes to vote.

Another voter was there to show appreciation.

“I wanted to come here in support of what the NBA is doing to promote expanded voting opportunities and to just support them with the stand that they’re taking in support of voter rights,” said Daniel Dreher.

Attorney Roderick James arrived early at a designated early voting spot near his home in eastern New Orleans and saw a line about three blocks long. So, he opted to head downtown for the Smoothie King Center. It’s usually the home of the New Orleans Pelicans NBA franchise but, through Oct. 27, it is one of five early voting locations in the city.

He joined a line of about 50 other voters – masked if not consistently 6 feet apart – and was soon ushered into the arena, where he stood in another longer line. He estimated his wait to vote was no more than 40 minutes.

“It was actually very efficient,” he said.

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