Georgians fearing the worst for Election Day 2020 woke up to find swift lines and few headaches as voters shuttled in and out of polling places up and down the state on the way to record-breaking turnout.
Even before Tuesday, Georgia voters had cast nearly 4 million ballots by mail or during the three-week early voting period that wrapped up last Friday.
With upwards of 2 million more ballots anticipated, the state looked well on track to passing the 4.1 million record turnout for the 2016 presidential election.
Faced with huge lines during early voting and in the June 9 primary, election officials across the state warned Georgians in recent weeks to prepare for lengthy waits outside voting places as poll workers grappled with high volumes, new machines and safety precautions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
LaToya Jefferson, who lives near her precinct at Cobb County Regional Library in Mableton, said Tuesday she had watched the long lines of early voting since Oct. 12, when voters waited outside the library for as many as eight hours.
Jefferson decided to wait until Election Day to vote, despite remembering the tough conditions during the 2016 election when she had to wait for hours in the rain. But come Tuesday morning, it took her about 10 minutes to vote at the library.
“I was surprised,” Jefferson said. “I kept seeing that line and seeing that line last week. But I was in and out today.”
By the lunch rush, when lines tend to run long, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office estimated wait times statewide stood on average at just four minutes to vote. Election officials primed for a repeat of problems seen in June were starting to breathe sighs of relief.
“We’re hearing good things all over the state,” said Walter Jones, a spokesman for Raffensperger. “Everything is humming along.”
Even the worst line offenders in Atlanta were running smoothly. Poll workers at the Park Tavern precinct, where people waited for hours in line during the June primary, had been moving voters through with no slowdowns and no technical issues by 2 p.m.
Officials said few polling places opened late on Tuesday, eliminating a major source of bottlenecks that have plagued past elections. Machine problems had also been sparse aside from a glitch in Spalding County with voter access cards, but which was largely fixed by afternoon.
Raffensperger and other officials credited the thousands of volunteers who have pitched in as poll workers and technical assistance with helping ease the voting process, as well as an avalanche of early and mail-in votes. Counties like Fulton also took key steps to resolve past problems, Raffensperger said.
Gabriel Sterling, the voting system manager with Raffensperger’s office, said around 3:30 p.m. that “everything is steady as she goes” across the state with the average wait time having fallen to a mere two minutes. The longest afternoon wait time was about an hour in Coweta County, Sterling said.
“It’s exceeding our expectations given the situations we saw in June,” Sterling said. “We’ve hit all of our marks. The counties have done an amazing job. The state’s worked with them to make sure they have all the resources they need.”
Voting rights advocates have pressed state and county election officials for months to reduce line times that drew accusations of voter suppression.
Rev. Raphael Warnock, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate and senior pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, said during an Election-Day campaign stop that “we are clearly on our way to record turnout and that’s a good sign.”
Campaigning Tuesday with Stacey Abrams, the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate who founded the voting rights group Fair Fight, Warnock praised the quick voting times but cautioned Georgians to remain vigilant about potential acts of alleged suppression.
“We’ve seen the collision of voter passion and voter suppression,” Warnock said. “Hopefully, at the end of the day, the passion will overcome the suppression.”