ATLANTA – Despite some technical problems, voting in Georgia on Tuesday got off to a mostly smooth start — a marked departure from a June primary that required some voters to wait in line for hours to cast their ballots.
People lined up outside polling places before they opened at 7 a.m. but the average wait was down to 12 minutes a little less than an hour later, the secretary of state’s office announced.
“We are having a successful election in Georgia today,” Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said with roughly five hours of voting still to go.
Raffensperger credited the large numbers of people who voted ahead of Election Day. A record of nearly 2.7 million voters cast their ballots during the state’s three-week early in-person voting period. Another 1.5 million absentee ballots had been received and accepted.
The primary was the first statewide election carried out on the new election system the state bought for more than $100 million last year from Dominion Voting Systems. The system includes touchscreen voting machines that print paper ballots for voters to insert into scanners, which read a barcode to record and tally the votes.
There were some problems. An apparent database error affected all polling sites in Spalding County about 40 miles south of Atlanta, where voters encountered delays after electronic ballots wouldn’t load on touchscreen voting machines. Poll workers switched to a manual process and voting continued. Eight of the 18 locations were operating normally by the afternoon, according to Gabe Sterling with the Secretary of State’s Office.
Four of seven locations that experienced technical problems in Morgan County east of Atlanta also were running normally later Tuesday, as was Morris Brandon Elementary School in Atlanta, where voters initially were forced to cast paper ballots instead of voting on machines.
A judge ordered two polling sites in DeKalb County to remain open past 7 p.m. because they opened late. One in Atlanta will be open until 7:45 p.m. and one in neighboring Decatur will be open until 7:40 p.m.
“This extension was requested, in an abundance of caution, to ensure that all electors at the locations have the required full 12 hours of voting,” according to a county news release.
A polling place in Cobb County, in Atlanta’s northwest suburbs, was to stay open until 7:20 p.m. because a poll manager overslept and it opened late, elections director Janine Eveler said.
Voting in the suburb of Powder Springs northwest of Atlanta, Susan Spence, a supporter for President Donald Trump, said she feels “terrified in a world with Biden, absolutely terrified.”
“I’m here because I believe in Americanism, not socialism,” said Spence, a 69-year-old retired teacher.
But Cynthia McDonald, a 52-year-old consultant in Sandy Springs who voted early for Biden, compared Trump to a catastrophe.
“It’s kind of like a train wreck that you can’t look away from,” she said. “Then you realize you’re not watching the train wreck, you’re on the damn train!”
Kelvin Hardnett stood in line in near-freezing weather for nearly an hour before polls opened at the Cobb County Civic Center outside Atlanta.
“I believe there’s a lot of division and separation,” said Hardnett, 36, who works for a security firm. “And I believe that once we get past the names and the titles and the personal agendas, then you know, we can focus on some real issues.”
A combination of factors contributed to long lines in June, including equipment problems, coronavirus-related poll worker shortages and consolidation of polling places. Voters also queued for hours during early in-person voting last month, with some waiting more than eight hours to cast a ballot.
The coronavirus outbreak complicated training on the new system and many experienced poll workers dropped out ahead of the primary, fearing exposure to the virus. Since then, thousands of new poll workers have been recruited and trained, and election officials organized an army of technicians to be on hand to troubleshoot any equipment problems.
Raffensperger has said his office reviewed wait times and check-in times for precincts across the state after the primary, along with the number of registered voters, turnout and equipment distribution. They then advised counties to add more voting equipment in some places or to split precincts. That has resulted in several hundred new polling places for the general election, he said.
Fulton County alone added 91 polling places, bringing the total from 164 for the primary to 255 for the general election, according to elections director Rick Barron.
“We’ve had minimal lines throughout the county,” Barron told reporters on Tuesday morning. “It always helps when you have robust turnout during early voting to alleviate issues that can crop up on election day.”
Associated Press writers Jeff Martin, Ben Nadler, Sophia Tulp and Christina Cassidy contributed reporting.