More Macon

Voters in Macon puzzle over sample ballots while waiting in the hour and a half long line to vote.

Credit: Grant Blankenship/GPB News

Georgia elections officials say they have fixed a capacity issue with the state's voter registration database that has slowed the check-in process and contributed to longer lines this week. 

More than 10% of Georgia's 7.4 million registered voters have already cast their ballot two days in to the early voting period, including half a million absentee-by-mail ballots returned.

For three days, reports of extensive waits have permeated all corners of the state, with wait-time trackers in Cobb and Gwinnett Counties regularly topping three hours for many of their early voting locations. 

At a Wednesday press conference, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said the eNet system, the state voter registration database used to check people in for early voting, is being accessed by more users than ever, bogging down the process and playing a contributing role in longer lines.

"If you look at the amount of information that's just flowing, it's like everyone jumping on I-285 in the morning, and sometimes you have to stagger out the rush hour," he said. "Our vendors have been working on that along with our staff to make sure we're looking at some other optimizations and we should have that probably done by the end of this week."
During in-person early voting, Georgians can cast their ballot at any one of the open sites within their county, so the eNet system is also used to ensure that someone did not already cast their ballot. 

The system is also used by county workers entering in a record number of absentee ballots being returned, and many Georgia counties have also opened more voting sites to accommodate higher turnout by both early voting methods.

Joseph Kirk, elections director for Bartow County, said he's hired additional staff to help with absentee processing and has opened more in-person voting locations than in the June primary.

“We've worked hard to get ready for advance voting to anticipate crowds with more equipment deployed as ever before, and once the state’s system is updated we will be able to process voters twice as fast as before," he said. "We appreciate everybody’s patience and enthusiasm, and we’re working on getting things addressed as fast as we can."

Another contributing factor to longer lines: More voters continue to line up well in advance of polls opening, creating hourslong waits from the start. With a limited number of machines at each location because of space constraints and social distancing, even as the check-in capacity issue is resolved there is a maximum throughput of voters per hour that can use the ballot-marking device system.

State officials strongly encourage the million or so Georgians who have requested and received but not yet returned an absentee ballot to do so, and said they are asking counties to provide more machines and locations throughout the rest of the early voting period that ends Oct. 30.

"We are seeing historic levels of turnout, with a 40% increase over 2016," deputy secretary of state Jordan Fuchs said in a statement. "While we are glad people are heeding our advice to vote early, they should remember they can use any early-voting site in their county. We have worked with our vendor to immediately expand bandwidth and have seen marked improvement."

By Wednesday afternoon, wait times in some counties were reportedly lower than in previous days.