Georgia’s new voting machines rolled out for demonstrations and training

By: - October 3, 2019 8:43 am

Georgia’s primary election has been bumped to June, which is a change some state officials hope will increase the likelihood of more people being able to vote in person. Here, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger demonstrates the state’s new voting equipment. Photo courtesy Secretary of State’s office

About 70 elections officials from 20 counties in north Georgia this week attended a two-day session in Calhoun to get acquainted with Georgia’s new voting machine system.

Top county elections officials, including supervisors and administrative staff, gathered at the Gordon County Agricultural Service Center in Calhoun Tuesday and Wednesday to test the equipment as the state begins orientation sessions in Georgia’s 159 counties.

Gordon County’s elections director, Shea Hicks, said she’ll share what she’s learned with poll workers at Calhoun City and her other 11 precincts.

“Normally what I like to do is train one voting precinct at a time,” Hicks said early this week. “That’s what we’ll be doing.”

Georgia election officials kicked off a regional training effort in Calhoun to introduce elections officials to the workings of the state’s new ballot machines ahead of a tight court-ordered timeline so they’ll be ready by the March 2020 election.

Officials with the Secretary of State’s office say the first implementation phase for the new ballot machines is going according to plan. Each of Georgia’s 159 counties should receive one demonstration set of the new ballot-marking devices, scanners and printers for testing and training purposes by early next week, said Gabriel Sterling, the Secretary of State’s chief operating officer. All of the roughly 30,000 devices are supposed to ship out to precincts by January.

“We’re going to have multiple trainings on these things (and) there are going to be trainings throughout the whole of next year,” Sterling said. “I guarantee there’s things that no one’s thought of when you’re going through these things in the state.”

The 20 north Georgia counties are the first of 14 regions where training is scheduled over the next several weeks, Sterling said. 

Dominion Voting Systems delivered about 3,000 of the devices to the Secretary of State’s office out of about 30,000 on order. Most of the 3,000 are destined for six counties tapped to pilot the machines in elections this November, Sterling said. The Dominion devices record votes as a barcode and print paper copies of the ballot for a voter’s review before being scanned. The system is supposed to replace the Diebold touch screen system used in Georgia since 2002.

The initial shipment of devices followed the state’s $45 million payment to Dominion on Aug. 9, days after state officials signed a $107 million contract with the company. The state is pushing the process along to meet the March 2020 election deadline next year.

A federal judge in August expressed skepticism Georgia will be prepared for the March 2020 elections and ruled the state must use handwritten ballots if the new machines aren’t ready.

In Gordon County, the local elections board plans to train poll workers starting as soon as January, Hicks said. She said she expects that will allow enough time for training, since the county has so few precincts.

Meanwhile, larger counties like Gwinnett and Cobb are preparing to train thousands of poll workers, many of whom have grown accustomed to the old touchscreen devices.

Gwinnett County, which operates 157 precincts, recently received a demonstration machine and staff at the local elections board will tinker with it before deciding how best to organize training for poll workers, said Lynn Ledford, the county’s elections division director. 

“We actually don’t have a real solid plan yet because we just don’t know what we have,” Ledford said. “It makes me a little anxious, but we always manage to work through everything.”

Cobb County, home to 141 precincts, needs to train about 1,800 poll workers ahead of the March election, said Janine Eveler, the county’s elections director. 

“Everything’s going as I would expect,” Eveler said. “And I didn’t expect it to crash and burn, no.”

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Beau Evans
Beau Evans

Beau Evans has covered local and state government and breaking news in New Orleans and California. He’s reported on immigration issues, the threat of rising seas to coastal areas, public safety and hurricanes. At The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Evans detailed the critical role government plays to ensure that people in a community have access to clean water and other public needs. In 2018, his investigative reporting revealed top officials at New Orleans’ cash-poor water utility dealt themselves huge raises, prompting several to resign. Evans’ prior reporting was in West Marin north of San Francisco for The Point Reyes Light. Evans is an Atlanta native who graduated with honors from The Lovett School and is an honors graduate of North Carolina’s Davidson College. Beau was with the Georgia Recorder until January 4th, 2020.