Early voting begins as state works through recount rules, wait times

By: - March 2, 2020 7:00 am

College-age protesters at the State Election Board meeting Friday pressed for the state to confirm voting results by hand instead of scanning the new bar coded ballots. Stanley Dunlap/Georgia Recorder

A bill designed to curb wait times at the polls was introduced Friday as state officials try to determine the right number of balloting machines county officials should make available on Election Day to avoid the long lines that jammed precincts two years ago. 

A group of influential senators filed the legislation Friday to require county election officials to make adjustments if voters get stuck in line for more than an hour.

The elections board also voted Friday to conduct recounts by scanning bar codes, even as college-aged protesters at the meeting called for paper ballots to be filled out by hand instead of machines. The new ballot marking technology produces paper confirmation a voter can read after making selections on a touch screen. If there’s still a dispute, the plain text could be used to confirm results.

A hand recount would allow confirmation that the printed text on the ballot matches the bar code.

The legislation filed Friday would require local elections officials to track waiting times multiple times a day to determine if the precinct needs to be split in half or if more voting machines and poll workers are needed in future elections. Those adjustments now only occur if voters wait at least an hour in line after the polls are closed.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced his support Friday for legislation that aims to reduce the waiting times for elections. 

“The right to vote is a most sacred democratic duty, and one that should not be inhibited by unnecessarily long lines,” Raffensperger said in a statement. 

Current state law requires one voting machine for every 250 eligible voters in a precinct. The 2018 midterm elections were plagued by long waits and malfunctioning equipment, especially in metro Atlanta.

As new voting machine training for election officials started in Calhoun last fall, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger demonstrated the system at a Clayton County senior center. Photo courtesy Secretary of State’s office.

The board’s vote came as the Secretary of State’s office completed delivery of 30,000 new voting machines to county elections offices throughout the state. The $104 million voting system still includes a touch screen but will now produce a paper printout of the voter’s selections and a bar code that is then scanned by a poll worker.

Five million Georgians are expected to vote during the November election, about half of them in person on Election Day. For this month’s presidential primary, elections officials estimate 1.5 million Georgians will cast ballots on March 24.

Early voting for the presidential primary begins today.

Election integrity advocates continued to express doubts about the reliability of the new voting system Friday ahead of the system’s biggest test in Georgia.

“Poll workers simply have not had enough time to be adequately trained on the new equipment,” said Saira Draper, director of Voter Protection for the Democratic Party of Georgia. “DPG has monitored two elections, with new equipment was used, and then almost every polling place we monitored, poll workers had issues with the new machines”

Georgia’s polling places could probably get by with fewer voting machines for this month’s presidential primary, but will likely need more when droves of voters are expected to turn out in November, said Ryan Germany, an attorney with the Secretary of State’s Office.

“Recognizing the fact that not every election is the same, the number of people coming through to vote on Election Day in particular but even including those voting absentee is vastly different in the November general election than what’s happening in State Senate District 13 right now,” Germany said.

Update March 2, 2020 – This post has been clarified to say readable print on the ballots can be used to confirm results.

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Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap

Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.