Election officials urge patience as historic early voting wraps up

Fulton County poll workers at the Ponce De Leon Library redirected voters to the Atlanta Hawks basketball arena Thursday morning after the remnants of Tropical Storm Zeta knocked out electricity in the area. They turned away more than 100 voters from the library precinct by late morning. John McCosh/Georgia Recorder

This story has been corrected to no longer state that the Savannah Civic Center is only an early voting location. The civic center will also be a polling station on Election Day. 

A historic early voting period in Georgia wraps up Friday with another large turnout expected at the polls.

But even with 3.6 million votes coming in via absentee ballots and in-person by Thursday afternoon, that doesn’t mean that the long lines thousands of voters experienced at the start of advanced voting and in the June primary won’t come back come on Election Day.

Since the rocky start to early voting on Oct. 12, most of the long lines across Georgia disappeared after fixing a bogged down statewide database that left many voters stuck in lines for hours on end.

Voting in some counties hit a snag again Thursday when Tropical Storm Zeta delayed the opening of the early voting locations by causing extensive power outages around metro Atlanta and beyond. 

Still, the state’s top election official says the historic turnout is a sign that voters remain enthusiastic even during a pandemic. 

People who vote Friday or Tuesday need to be patient, said Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who predicts a record turnout Friday and about 2 million more Georgians to come out on Election Day. 

“My office, along with thousands of county election workers, are all working towards making sure that every legal vote is counted fairly and accurately,” he said. “Your vote matters. Elections matter.”

The end of early voting also means voters can no longer go to any advanced polling place within their county. Instead, voters will have to show up at their designated polling station on Tuesday.

After Friday, advanced voting places like State Farm Arena in Atlanta and Stegeman Coliseum in Athens that quickly moved through a high-volume of voters will no longer be open.

Election officials encourage people to confirm their polling spot at the secretary of state’s website at www.mvp.sos.ga.gov.

Fulton County officials are banking on a large surplus of poll workers, the addition of many more polling places and other changes to prevent another debacle like the June 9 primary.

Fulton election director Rick Barron said he expects another 30,000 residents will vote Friday as the county surpasses the goal of having at least 80% of votes cast before Tuesday. 

One significant change to reduce waiting is splitting up precincts so that fewer than 5,000 registered voters are assigned to the same place, Barron said.

“We had already determined we needed to do that before the pandemic at the end of last year, the beginning of this year,” he said. “And then when the June election happened, we lost all those locations, we saw what the lines were like in the primary, we knew that we needed to make it happen.” 

More bottlenecks are likely to occur because many Georgians are still unsure about the status of their absentee ballots, said Aunna Dennis, executive director of Common Cause Georgia.

In addition, some county election offices may scramble to get technicians at each polling station, because there won’t be enough emergency paper ballots if problems arise with the state’s new $104 million voting system, Dennis said.

In preparation, Common Cause recruited more than 1,000 poll monitors and has a hotline set up for people to report election issues, including any complaints of voter intimidation. 

“We always think that our democracy should be better and it needs to work for voters,” Dennis said. “It shouldn’t take hours to vote, but even if long lines do happen, voters should stay in line, even if it’s 7pm because everyone should be able to vote.”

Lara Wessel, an associate professor of political science at Georgia Southern University, says many Georgians are showing up to the polls prepared to stand in line for a long time. Pulling off a historic election in the middle of a pandemic would be much more daunting without such a large turnout so far, she said.

“The fact that we do have so many people voting early either in person or voting by mail eases the stress on the system,” Wessel said. “If that were not the case, given the turnout that’s expected, I think it would be very challenging for the state to be able to effectively allow everybody to vote in that short time period.’’

 

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.