The first day of Fulton County’s early voting for the Nov. 3 general election was a victory despite the long lines and a few hiccups, its elections leader said.
“Day 1 of 19 days (of early voting) was successful. Glitches we were able to encounter we were able to correct and things were moving smoothly,” said Richard Barron, Fulton’s department of registration and elections director.
Barron and two other county officials spoke at a news briefing Fulton hosted Oct. 13 to address issues is polling precincts encountered on the first day of early voting. With the ballot including hotly contested presidential and U.S. Senate races, plus several other federal, statewide and local campaigns, the election is expected to draw a record number of voters in the county and in Georgia.
According to the secretary of state’s office, a record 128,590 Georgians cast ballots on the first day. Fulton had about 20,000 residents vote, 6,000 less than it had on the first day of early voting for the 2016 general election, Barron said. He added the largest crowds for early voting are usually on the first and last days.
Fulton has staged 30 early voting precincts plus seven outreach sites and two mobile locations across the county Oct. 12 through 30, and residents can vote at any early voting poll location. On Election Day, though, they must vote at their own designated precinct.
One of the problems Barron mentioned was an issue that occurred with the poll pads, electronic tablets that help process voters as they check in to vote, when the State Farm Arena precinct in downtown Atlanta opened at 8 a.m.
“Our IT people quickly isolated the problem, and within 40 minutes, we were up and running,” Robb Pitts, the Fulton Board of Commissioners’ chair, said, adding nearly 3,000 residents voted there Oct. 12, the most in the county.
Barron, who said State Farm Arena has 300 voting machines for early voting, added, “Once the glitch was fixed, it took no longer to 15 minutes for anyone to go to State Farm Arena to vote. People from all across the county decided to cast their votes early at State Farm Arena. … If you go to another polling place and encounter a long line, come on down to State Farm Arena.”
That site is one of three mega sites Fulton has set up for early voting, with the other two being the Benson Center in Sandy Springs and the Georgia International Convention Center in College Park.
While Fulton residents had to wait at least three hours to vote Oct. 12, that paled in comparison to the waits Cobb and Gwinnett ones encountered. According to media reports, voters waited in line for at least seven hours in Cobb and eight in Gwinnett.
Barron pointed out that Fulton has more early voting sites than Cobb, DeKalb and Gwinnett counties combined.
Other problems Fulton encountered Oct. 12 included some residents who had already received an absentee ballot deciding to early vote instead, which caused delays at precinct locations because poll workers had to cancel out their absentee ballots before allowing them to vote in person.
“In my opinion, if they requested absentee, they use the absentee (ballot) and they fill it out and drop it in the (mail or drop) box. They can’t change their mind once they’re here,” said Victoria Hunnicutt, who voted Oct. 12 at the Chastain Park precinct in Buckhead.
Also, a reporter said the voting machines at the Wolf Creek Library precinct in south Fulton were out for an hour and asked if technicians were at each poll location.
“We did have technicians at every precinct but I don’t know about the machines being out,” Barron said.
Another reporter asked what the cause of a delay in voting at the Ocee Library in Johns Creek was.
“(At Ocee) it wasn’t a poll pad problem. I think there was some sort of an assignment problem,” Barron said. “I don’t know all the details with it, but there shouldn’t be any more issues with that.”
Another reporter asked if Fulton would post to its website live videos of each poll location to show where the longest lines were.
“We are beta testing something behind the scenes for early voting," Barron said, adding once all the bugs are fixed, it’s expected to go online this week.
A reporter also asked if the long lines residents experienced equaled a form of voter suppression.
“We’ve made the commitment since 2013 to offer more voting locations than any other county for voting,” Barron said. “But no matter what, since we’re offering lots of voting sites, there’s no voter suppression. In every presidential election, we have lines.”
For Election Day voting, he said the problems poll pad problems should be minimized because the county spent $100,000 for cradle point routers for the poll pads, which help monitor them at all precincts.
“That is going to allow us to see the health and status of the poll pads at all the sites on Election Day,” he said. “We can walk through any fixes that need to be made when they occur.”