If one Fulton County early voting polling precinct is an indicator, turnout in the Jan. 5 runoff election could be lower than expected, despite the fact that control of the U.S. Senate is on the line.
At the Chastain Park gym in Buckhead, when a reporter arrived on the first day of early voting Dec. 14 at 11:52 a.m., there was no line outside but about 25 individuals waiting inside. It was a far cry from Oct. 12, the first day of early voting for the Nov. 3 general election, which included the presidential race, when residents waited at least three hours to vote.
“It was a much better experience this time,” Buckhead resident and voter Eric Crooks, said, referring to Oct. 12.
Crooks said he waited in line to vote for only 12 to 13 minutes Dec. 14, and the two other residents the Neighbor interviewed said their wait time was no more than 20 to 25 minutes.
The Senate runoff, where incumbent Republicans Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue face Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, respectively, is expected to break records both in terms of money spent on each candidate’s campaign and in terms of voter turnout, since either party’s control of the Senate hangs in the balance.
Statewide, over a million absentee ballots could be cast partly due to residents’ fears of contracting COVID-19 if they vote in person after 1.3 million were cast in the Nov. 3 general election, which garnered 5 million votes total.
Residents interviewed after voting Dec. 14 said they cast their ballots early for a variety of reasons, with Buckhead resident Josh Bass saying he did so “to avoid the crowd on Jan. 5.”
“I really just wanted to cast my vote as soon as quickly as I possibly could,” Buckhead resident Payton Towe said. “I absentee voted in the presidential (election). I just feel like voting in person, especially right now, is probably a better idea.”
Crooks added, “I’ve tried to social distance before going see my family next week. So, I wanted to get it done early. That’s the main reason.”
None of the residents interviewed said they had any problems with voting machines or the health and safety measures the county implemented because of the pandemic.
“It was great,” Bass said.
Towe added, “It seemed pretty straightforward. They’ve got us spaced out pretty well in there.”
However, not every Fulton polling precinct had a smooth day with early voting. An individual posted a message on the Concerned Citizens United Facebook page warning voters of issues at two locations.
“If you’re planning to vote this morning check the system for wait times,” the person said. “I’m at the (Benson) Senior Center in Sandy Springs, and they just told us there were problems system-wide. Apparently (the) Buckhead Library and other locations are totally down based on what they’re telling us.”
Jessica Corbitt, a Fulton spokeswoman, confirmed some precincts had problems.
“We have had occasional minor issues, but overall, all of our 30-plus sites have served voters smoothly,” she said. “The first day of early voting is often one of the busiest so it is not unusual to have lines.”
While the line may have been short at Chastain Park, other early voting sites may have seen longer waits based on information Rick Barron, Fulton’s director of registration and elections, provided at the county board of commissioners’ Dec. 16 recess meeting. He said 43,428 residents cast ballots during the first two days of early voting for the runoff, compared to 39,284 in the first two days of early voting for the general election.
Early voting runs through Dec. 30. For more information, including a list of precincts, visit www.fultoncountyga.gov/voteearly. The Fulton Votes mobile app is providing voting site wait time info for the runoff.