Sluggish computer system a culprit in Georgia’s long early voting lines

    Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said more bandwidth added to a voter database should speed up getting voters checked after the system became bogged down at the start of early voting. County election officials say the slow system contributed to Georgians waiting in lines for hours to vote in the presidential election. Stanley Dunlap/Georgia Recorder

    Early County Election Supervisor Claire Moseley says she’s thankful that even with balky technology, residents in the rural southwest Georgia community aren’t dealing with the maddening waits common in metro Atlanta and other big communities.

    But even in the small, southwest Georgia community, election staff and poll workers are spending extra time dealing with a slow statewide voter database and people canceling their absentee ballots so they can vote in person. 

    Since early voting started Monday, tens of thousands of Georgians have waited hours in line to vote at busy polling stations in the metro-Atlanta region, Chatham County and other population centers. 

    In Early, the more than 600 who cast their ballots by Wednesday afternoon spent less than 15 minutes getting in and out of the elections office, Moseley said.

    “We may stay a little late but we’re able to get them in even with (the database) operating slowly,” she said.

    Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said his staff is working with county election officials to curb some of the long lines and solve technical issues after a record-breaking start to early voting as they brace for a busy Nov. 3 Election Day. 

    He said a contractor is working to speed up access to a voter database that lagged when large numbers of poll workers attempted to check in voters on electronic poll pads. 

    Some local election officials are also dedicating more resources, including adding voting equipment in busier polling stations, so voters are spending less time in lines. 

    “So many Georgians are excited to get out and vote, both in person and an absentee,” Raffensperger said. “This also speaks to the potential for high turnout we may see on Nov. 3 that my office, and more importantly, the counties need to prepare for.”

    Georgians are voting in record numbers this election, with about 240,000 in-person votes during the first two days of early voting. Another 500,000 absentee ballots have already been received by county election offices, meaning 10% of the state’s registered voters have cast ballots.

    So far, turnout for the 2020 general election is 197% higher than the 2016 presidential election at this point, according to georgiavotes.com/.

    In Bibb and many other counties across Georgia, socially distanced lines formed Wednesday morning well before precincts opened.

    In Henry County, four additional polling locations are opening Thursday, providing some relief after some voters waited eight hours to cast a ballot earlier this week.

    Election officials continue to urge voters to go to the polls with shorter waiting times since they can go to any location within the county where they’re registered until early voting wraps up on Oct. 30.

    Conducting an election in a pandemic requires maintaining social distances between voters, training new poll workers and keeping equipment sanitized to guard against the spread of COVID-19.

    After the messy June 9 primary plagued with hours-long lines, the secretary of state’s office created an online portal as a new option. The secretary of state’s office also tried to help counties recruit more poll workers to help handle the expected crush of general election voters.

    “Our office is working with very diverse partners that includes the ACLU, the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, who’ve sent nearly 40,000 names of Georgians who want to act as poll workers to help their neighbors have an easy and safe voting experience,” Raffensperger said.

    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.