FREDERICTON -- The election is still days away, but a large portion of New Brunswick's electorate has already cast their ballots.

Unofficial figures released Wednesday from Elections New Brunswick indicate a 50 per cent jump from the previous election during two days of early voting in the country's first election since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The agency says a total of 133,000 people voted on Saturday and Tuesday, an increase of 45,000 from advance polling in 2018.

The total is about one third the number of people who voted in the last provincial election.

The chief electoral officer has said some of the shift in voting patterns is due to people wanting to avoid lineups due to social distancing requirements caused by COVID-19.

Results from advance voting are expected to be among the first made public on election night Sept. 14, as returning office staff upload them shortly after polls close at 8 p.m.

The agency is also cautioning that final official results may not be available until after midnight.

The agency said in a Tuesday news release that if there are lineups that delay voting, those in line when polls are scheduled to close will still be permitted to vote.

It also says the need to count the large number of votes cast at local returning offices could contribute to official results being delayed.

Returning office staff must first process all mail-in ballots that arrived that day, as well as any out-of-office special ballots collected by curbside voting that day.

"It is anticipated that the final results will not be published until after midnight, and there may be lengthy delays between the results reported from small polling stations and those reported from larger polling stations where lineups may be present at the close of polls," the news release says.

The leaders will meet Thursday evening in a virtual roundtable hosted by CTV.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 9, 2020.