High turnout for early voting in Georgia so far, but glitches raise concerns

Fulton County poll worker Charlotte Melix kept notebooks of sample primary ballots organized at the Ponce De Leon library precinct during the second week of early voting. John McCosh/Georgia Recorder

This story was updated May 10 at 8:10 a.m. to include voting totals through the end of May 9.

Camden County voter Beth Miller received error messages several times last week when she tried to pull up a sample Democratic ballot on the Georgia Secretary of State’s official website.

Many Georgians, from the coastal county of Camden to the largest counties in metro Atlanta to Muscogee County, reported trouble viewing Democratic, Republican, or Independent sample ballots before going to cast their votes early for the May 24 primary.

Miller contacted local party representatives and election officials to notify them of the problem that continued to frustrate voters through the end of the first week of early voting in state party primaries. 

“This is obviously inequitable access, and significantly affects my ability to vote knowledgeably and effectively as a Democrat,” she wrote in an email. “ A prior review of ballots across ALL ballots (not just those currently in power) must be given in a democracy.”

Monday marked the start of the second of three weeks of early voting period that is on track to be record breaking for a midterm election.

Heading into Tuesday, 216,814 people had cast their ballots in the primary, with 124,045 Republican ballots outpacing the Democrats with slightly under 91,022, or 57% to 42%.

The overall voter turnout though the first week of this year’s primary is 230% higher than the same period for 2018’s primary, according to Georgiavotes.com.

The new deadline for requesting an absentee ballot is 11 days before Election Day as Georgia’s 2021 election overhaul takes effect. So, the last day to request one is Friday, while the actual ballots must be in by 7 p.m. on May 24 when precincts are scheduled to close.

Georgia’s Republican turnout is largely driven so far by hotly contested primary races for the U.S. ‌Senate pitting University of Georgia football legend Herschel Walker against ‌state Agricultural Commissioner Gary Black and ‌Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp who is facing a tough primary against ex-Sen. David Perdue. However, other factors come into play during primary season, according to Charles Bullock, political science professor at the University of Georgia.

“Particularly, the (GOP) governorship is high profile and that helps drive it where on the Democratic side with Stacey Abrams, there’s no opposition,” Bullock said.

A portion of the high GOP voter turnout could be driven by Democrats who cross over from their traditional political party loyalty to try to sway the more high-profile elections on the other side.

“If there’s not anything on Democratic side that you care about then you might get a Republican ballot if that’s where the action is,” Bullock said.

Georgia’s incumbent Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is also getting a spirited challenge from sitting GOP Congressman Jody Hice, in large part due to the incumbent’s refusal to illegally overturn Georgia’s 2020 presidential election win for President Joe Biden. A county grand jury is investigating the former president’s attempt to interfere with the 2020 election tally.

Sample ballots offer people a chance to see Democratic, Republican or Independent ballots and Gabriel‌ ‌Sterling,‌ ‌chief‌ ‌operating‌ ‌officer‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌secretary‌ ‌of‌ ‌state,‌ ‌responded‌ ‌on‌ ‌Twitter‌ ‌that an online notice informs people that they need to disable their pop-up blockers in order to access their sample ballot options.

County election officials from across the state also worked to resolve inaccurate ballots assigned to thousands of voters in the wake of new redistricting maps.  In Chatham County, four voters cast ballots in the wrong state House districts before local officials recognized the mistake while Fulton County Commissioner Marvin Arrington Jr.’s name was missing from his own ballot due to an error.

The Cobb County Courier reported on Friday that a mother and daughter notified poll workers after they realized that a cityhood referendum was not on their ballots despite their legitimate residency within the proposed city limits.

Poll workers came up with a workaround to pull up the correct ballots. 

There have been delays in Raffensperger’s plans to add new bells and whistles to Georgia’s election operations in time for the May primary by launching a new voter registration system that would reduce long lines.

And some county election officials reported working through hiccups along the way, including a statewide outage on Thursday morning that briefly derailed the 2013 system that remains in place through the primary. Still, the state is counting a record turnout of early voters participating in a midterm election and election officials are encouraging voters to check the state’s My Voter Page before heading to the polls.

Bullock said redistricting-related confusion is common whenever new political boundaries are drawn every 10 years to adapt to new U.S. census figures. Last time around, a Georgia state House election had to be rerun twice because voters were placed in the wrong district.

“Especially as the Legislature went about evening out the populations, if they split a precinct then it would get a lot harder for local election officials,” Bullock said.  “They’ve got to make sure that they have a proper legal description and know which street to go down and how to draw new voting lines.”

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: info@georgiarecorder.com. Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.