EDITOR’S NOTE: All vote counts reported in today’s edition were as of midnight Tuesday with 106 of 144 precincts in Cobb reporting. For further coverage and results, visit mdjonline.com.
MARIETTA — Election Day in Cobb began with reports of some voting precincts struggling with technical issues, setting up machines late or experiencing long delays amid safety measures prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Cobb and state elections officials warned that delays could be expected as polling places space people 6 feet apart, take time to clean voting areas and use fewer voting machines to limit capacity. But some voters expressed their frustration with non-pandemic-related problems to the MDJ.
Angela Glover, who lives in the Worthington Oaks subdivision in Powder Springs and serves as its homeowners association president, said she waited three hours to vote at the Austell Community Center on Joe Jerkins Boulevard despite having arrived at about 6:40 a.m., 20 minutes before doors were to open.
Glover said doors to the polling location did not open on time, and once they did, only two machines were set up. Even still, those two machines were malfunctioning and could not be used, she said.
“The supervisor was calling to find out how to do provisional voting, because apparently there’s a whole other process,” she said, adding that some voters were forced to cast provisional ballots. “After about three hours, I finally got inside and they had six of the machines working.”
Glover said she’d been voting at the Austell precinct for years but had never encountered such a scenario. She said she contacted Austell Mayor Ollie Clemons, who said he’d “look into it,” and also submitted a complaint after receiving instructions from representatives of Fair Fight Action, an organization created by Stacey Abrams to address voter suppression.
“Hopefully those measures helped to put some pressure on getting the site up and running three hours later,” she said.
County spokesman Ross Cavitt sent an emailed message to multiple media outlets addressing the issues on Tuesday afternoon.
Cavitt said several precincts would likely stay open after 7 p.m., “after they had varying issues getting the polls open and running at 7 a.m.”
Keeping the precincts open late is a request that must come before a judge, Cavitt said. Late in the afternoon, that request was granted by Cobb Superior Court Judge Robert Leonard, and 19 polling locations were approved for closures at 8 p.m.
Despite the reports of hourslong wait times at some precincts, Cavitt claimed waits had been “smaller than expected,” and many precincts reported “no waiting for those coming to vote.”
“We have not had any systemic issues, there have been problems that include slower than expected setup, internet issues at polling locations, and minor equipment problems,” he said.
Crystal Henderson and her son Chris Henderson, a first-time voter, voted at the precinct at Noonday Baptist Church in north Cobb and said the process went smoothly. Crystal Henderson did say, however, that her daughter reported showing up to the location earlier in the day to find it closed.
Jason Shepherd, chairman of the Cobb GOP, said he’d voted early, and had seen mostly smooth voting. But he said he’d heard of the issues at some precincts.
Shepherd said he’d received emails from a couple people, telling him “they went to vote, they’re senior citizens, it was a two-hour wait, so they’re not voting in the primary this year.”
But Shepherd said those issues were limited, and he still believed the Cobb County elections office is well-run. He said other Democrat-led elections offices, like DeKalb or Fulton counties have been worse off.
“(They) always seem to have problems,” he said. “Both of those counties, their board of elections are Democrat-controlled. The places with the biggest election issues on Election Day tend to be counties that are run by Democrats versus counties that are run by Republicans, who seem not to have the same kind of issues.”
Shepherd said the issues could likely be attributed to high voter turnout, the use of new voting machines and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jacquelyn Bettadapur, chair of the Democratic Party, meanwhile, said she had concerns about the many issues that had been reported to her.
“We’ve heard a lot of reports today about people showing up at their precinct and the poll manager telling them that the equipment was not delivered on time, nothing was set up and running. So they had to use provisional ballots in the first part of the morning,” she said.
Bettadapur said other issues included fewer voting machines being available in polling locations than previously promised, and even voters trying to vote with provisional ballots being told by poll workers to go home.
She said she and others have reported the issues to Cobb Elections and has concerns about the ability of every voter to cast their ballot.
Bettadapur said she was also concerned that many of the issues reported seemed to be taking place in south Cobb, where residents have historically felt underrepresented. But, she noted, that sentiment could also be explained by the fact that the Democratic Party has more ears and eyes on the ground in those areas.
Those issues have extended to other areas of metro Atlanta as well.
Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, ordered a lawmaker-led investigation into the “unacceptable deficiencies” of the primary that aims to look at more than poll workers, who he said “do not deserve to be blamed for systemic problems beyond their control.”
“The legislative branch of government has an obligation to go beyond the mutual finger-pointing and get to the truth,” Ralston said.
Further clouding the outcome of elections was that the Secretary of State’s website displayed zero precincts reporting all Tuesday night, despite ballots being tallied.
According to Cobb Elections Director Janine Eveler, no precinct is designated as having reported in until all votes — those cast by machine and provisional ballots — are included in the tally.
Eveler did say that approximately 100 of Cobb’s 144 precincts were included in the midnight vote counts.