Cobb voters have shattered records this year: in absentee ballots requested and returned during the primary; in the total number who voted during the primary; and now in the number who have voted during the first week of early voting ahead of November’s general election.
The first week had mixed results, according to county elections officials. They say the experience has improved dramatically since Monday when long lines around the metro area had voters fuming on social media.
“Our first day or two kind of reflected what has been happening statewide, and I believe there’s been kind of a smoothing out of processes,” said Jessica Brooks, a member of the county’s five-person Board of Elections. “Lines are still longer than we would wish, but I think that we had a very enthusiastic voter turnout, which is gratifying.”
Board of Elections Chair Phil Daniell said one person who voted at the elections department’s main office Monday claimed to have waited in line five hours.
Wait times have dropped since then.
Friday afternoon, voters and police there said wait times were about two hours. To make the wait a little easier, volunteers gave out water bottles and snacks.
“So far, so good,” said Rose O’Toole, a human resource specialist from east Cobb, while she was waiting in line. She estimated she had waited an hour and a half, and would probably wait another hour.
Another voter nearby, Soorian Padnanadhan, a student at Georgia State University, said he was most interested in the federal elections and an amendment to the state constitution that would allow residents to sue state or local governments for passing unconstitutional laws.
“It seems everyone here wants to be here,” he said. “I think it got a lot better after the first couple of days.”
Jane Pratt, a retired Marietta resident, spent her time in line reading a few chapters of “The Lying Game” by Ruth Ware.
“I thought it was going to be a lot shorter, but it’s worth the wait,” she said.
Anju Gupta, a nurse in Marietta, said the lines were “crazy” but overall the experience wasn’t bad.
“It’s been good. We got water, which was really nice and thoughtful,” she said.
And voters at the East Cobb Government Service Center said Wednesday they were pleasantly surprised by how long they had to wait in line.
Elections department director Janine Eveler attributed problems early in the week to an issue with the statewide check-in system used to verify voters’ information. Times improved dramatically after a Wednesday-night fix, she said.
But members of the board said the lines were also a reflection of voter interest.
Daniell said someone had asked him Monday why the lines were so long.
“I said, ‘Well, it’s because everybody in Cobb County decided they wanted to vote today!’” he said.
Board member Pat Gartland said he wished the county had an equivalent to the State Farm Arena, which has been temporarily converted to a high-capacity early voting location for Fulton County residents. But voters he’s spoken to said they were prepared for the lines.
“The people I talked to that have voted said, ‘Hey the lines were long, but hey, that’s understandable. This is an important election,’” he said.
TURNOUTThe number of ballots cast Friday would not be available until Saturday morning, Eveler said. Numbers from the first four days of early voting alone have far outpaced total first week numbers from the last presidential election.
Almost 19,000 votes were cast in person during the first five days of early voting in 2016. Another 10,000 absentee ballots had been cast at that point, a figure that includes those returned before the beginning of the early voting period.
By Friday morning, more than 32,000 people had cast a vote in person. Thursday drew the most voters with more than 9,400 casting a ballot. Another 60,000 had voted absentee.
The department has never had as many precincts open during the first week of early voting, Eveler said. Although a record number of county residents went to the polls in 2016, the county offered only two locations for the first two weeks of early voting.
The department had wanted to open more this year, Eveler said, but was limited by a lack of managerial staff. Many experienced poll workers are older adults who, afraid they might contract the coronavirus, decided they would not volunteer this year, she added.
In a grant application Eveler shared with the Marietta Daily Journal in September, she said the department could have between 550,000 and 570,000 registered voters for the November election and any runoffs in December and January. Of those, “at least” 440,000, or 80%, are expected to vote, she added.
As of Friday, the county had more than 537,000 registered voters, with a final tally of those eligible to vote in the general election coming Tuesday, Eveler said.
Presidential elections in 2008 and 2016 each drew 79% of the county’s registered voters. But more than 100,000 people have registered to vote since 2016.
Cobb voters set a record in 2016 when 335,466 residents cast a ballot in the presidential election.
Eveler said Wednesday she expects lines to begin growing again sometime next week and to continue to grow as Election Day approaches and interest builds.
TIPSDaniell had some words of advice for those who have yet to vote.
First, he recommended people who have requested an absentee ballot to use it. According to figures Eveler shared Thursday, more than 5,000 people have canceled an absentee ballot — a time-consuming process, Daniell said.
“That takes about five minutes — a poll worker’s taking about five minutes of their time to do that cancellation process,” Daniell said. “If they come in like that and they say, ‘Oh, I forgot my ballot, but I left it at home’ … then they have to fill out an affidavit and go through a different, more lengthy process. It takes them about 10 minutes to do that.”
The Board of Elections chair also recommended people check the online map of early voting locations before going out to vote. During the early voting period, voters can cast a ballot at any of the county’s nine locations. (Another two will open Monday, bringing the county’s total to 11.) Driving an extra 15 minutes could save someone hours in line if a precinct further afield has fewer people in line.
Voters should also visit the secretary of state’s website to confirm their precinct location, if they plan on voting Nov. 3; track the status of an absentee ballot; and review a sample ballot, so they know who and what to vote for by the time they get to a voting machine.