Georgia Election Officials Turn To November After Smoother Runoff
When polls open for Georgia's presidential election in 81 days, there is hope that Georgia will not make headlines for voting problems yet again.
State officials hope Georgians use a new online absentee request portal and three weeks of early voting to ensure most of the 5 million anticipated ballots will have already been cast.
County supervisors hope more training for freshly recruited poll workers will minimize issues with a new touchscreen voting system, and voters hope there will be shorter lines and fewer delays in one of the most important elections in history.
The rollout this year of Georgia's $104 million ballot-marking device system that prints out a paper ballot was never destined to be smooth sailing, but the coronavirus pandemic quickly put local elections officials underwater as they dealt with elderly poll workers backing out, polling places becoming unavailable and a crush of absentee applications and ballots as voters opted to stay home.
June 9 saw a host of problems concentrated in large metropolitan polling places, where lines stretched for hours after inexperienced poll workers struggled with poll pads used to check voters in and the machines that print out the selections.
The secretary of state's office quickly unveiled a plan to remediate issues, calling for more training and technical support.
“There were technicians in every county and multiple technicians in several large counties,” Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said. “We have learned that wasn’t enough.”
But even in the low-turnout August 11 runoff, problems at the polls were present, and not just the counties around Atlanta. A judge ordered Floyd County voting locations open an extra two hours after staff had difficulties starting the voting machines, and two Bibb County precincts added an extra 30 minutes after check-in delays.
November's election could likely feature many of the same struggles, but on a larger scale as more than 5 million Georgians are expected to participate in a crucial battleground state that could decide control of the White House and the U.S. Senate.
Still, both state and county officials have worked around the clock to ensure minimal disruptions and have taken steps to improve the voting process.
The State Election Board approved emergency rules this week that will give counties up to two weeks before the election to begin processing absentee ballots, allowing officials to do everything except tabulate a record vote-by-mail turnout that will also minimize delays in reporting results.
Another rule authorizes an online absentee ballot application portal, which gives Georgians another way to request a ballot using the same system as online voter registration. The centralized dashboard also will make it easier for counties to track and approve applications, especially after an untold number of Fulton County voters say they never received ballots nor had their applications approved after emailing them.
That portal should be available by the end of the month.
Raffensperger also set a goal of finding an additional 5,000 poll workers statewide to undergo training and help take the burden off of older poll workers that are more susceptible to complications from COVID-19. Raffensperger says so far, the state has contacted more than 3,000 people.
The state is also planning to implement a line management tool that will allow officials to monitor real-time waits at more than 2,300 polling places across Georgia, as well as highlight problems or issues that technicians can address more quickly.
Some changes and improvements to Georgia's voting process will rely on voters themselves. Any absentee ballot requested between now and mid-September, including more than half a million names on a rollover list, will be mailed out by the state on September 19, 45 days before the election.
From mid-September to Friday, October 30, the counties will process and mail applications on a rolling basis as they receive them. So the sooner voters request their ballots (today is a good day to do so), the sooner they get their ballots and the fewer applications and ballots their local elections office has to handle.
Also, the sooner you return your absentee ballot, the more time there is to ensure it is received by the elections office, whether you send via mail, place it in a secure dropbox or deliver it in person.
Georgia also has a long in-person early voting period, starting three weeks before Election Day and including one Saturday.
In Georgia's most populous county, Fulton voters have the opportunity to early vote at State Farm Arena, where the Atlanta Hawks staff have been trained as poll workers, more than 100 machines were spaced out throughout the basketball stadium and three times as many are planned for November.
According to data compiled and analyzed by GPB News, 10% of the state's polling places saw the last person cast their ballot after 8 p.m. on primary election day, nearly all of them in large metropolitan counties and half serving majority-Black precincts.
The state estimates that if one person inserts their ballot into the scanner every 25 seconds, 1,725 people could be processed per scanner at a polling place in a 12 hour day. But many polls could have more than that show up on November 3, and very rarely is there a regular stream of voters evenly distributed, so the more people vote early, the less likely it will be a longer line forms.
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