Gwinnett County’s Enise Deane offered a brutal assessment of how Georgia’s 2020 general election is going at a Tuesday press conference intended to draw attention to early voting headaches.
She spent eight hours Monday waiting in line to vote. Deane grew tired of watching her mailbox for an absentee ballot to arrive that she’d requested back in August. So she showed up at a precinct in person.
“This is a system that’s broken and it needs to be fixed,” Deane said.
Across Georgia many people spent hours waiting to vote on the second day of early voting after Monday set a record with 128,590 Georgians casting ballots.
Georgia will hold three weeks of early voting ahead of the presidential election Nov. 3 when voting ends. More than 240,000 Georgians have voted early so far.
Carolyn Bourdeaux, the Democratic candidate for Georgia’s 7th Congressional District, said at the Lawrenceville elections office press conference that Republican leadership from President Donald Trump down to state and local officials, should be held accountable for Monday’s sometimes lengthy waits that made voting unnecessarily difficult for tens of thousands of Georgians.
State and county election officials and voting rights organizations attributed the problems Monday to the heightened interest in a pivotal election. 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.
Still, election officials should have been better prepared for the large turnout, Bourdeaux said.
“Any good organization will prepare for a surge, and when they see that there is a lot of demand for a service to bring in backup capacity to help address it,” Bourdeaux said. “We saw a meltdown happen on Monday.”
While some Georgians spent several hours Tuesday waiting to vote, shopping around for a polling station in some counties rewarded voters with short lines to the precinct entrance. In early voting, people can go to any polling place within the county where they’re registered.
Fulton officials said thousands of voters breezed through downtown Atlanta’s State Farm Arena Tuesday, the largest precinct in the state, which took pressure off the county’s other polling places. The home of the Atlanta Hawks is one of several large venues converted into early voting precincts, including the High Museum of Art and an athletic training facility in Chamblee.
Many voters showing up at early voting precincts are holding absentee ballots, requested earlier with the intention of voting by mail. Absentee ballots can be canceled by poll workers to let people vote on the state’s new touch screen machines. But that takes time and slows the line.
“What I would encourage voters to do is if they’ve applied for an absentee by mail to go to the secretary of state’s website, sign up to track their ballot, and to vote with that ballot rather than going to the early voting sites and canceling them,” Barron said. “That is contributing to extending the lines and that’s been going on statewide.”
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger reported Tuesday that county officials had accepted 1.5 million absentee ballot requests so far. Voters have returned more than 400,000 ballots.
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.
“Record early, in-person voting capped off an already unprecedented election cycle,” Raffensperger said. “On our successful first day of early in-person voting, we saw almost 130,000 people cast their ballots, mirroring the enthusiasm surges we saw in almost every other state that has started early voting for November.
“With three weeks of early-person voting; absentee ballots that can be returned by drop box, by mail, or in person to an elections registrar; and Election Day voting, Georgia provides plenty of opportunities for Georgia voters to participate in the democratic process,” he said.
More than 5 million Georgians are expected to cast their ballots in person or by mail for this election. The crush of voters is straining the system in population centers two days into early voting.
Gwinnett County’s Shatavia Burch expected to spend most of her day Tuesday in a slow-moving line waiting to vote after hearing reports of people standing in line for hours when early voting kicked off across Georgia Monday.
The 42-year-old said she was pleasantly surprised she was only in line a few hours before she cast her ballot Tuesday. Some voters at the county election office waited eight hours before they eventually reached a voting machine.
“It’s frustrating seeing so many people stand in line so long and not just here in Gwinnett,” Burch said. “Hopefully, things will improve as we get closer.”