Fulton County’s early voting for the Nov. 3 general election started with long waits but few other complaints at one polling precinct.

At the Chastain Park gym in Buckhead, when a reporter arrived Oct. 12 at 1:12 p.m., the line wrapped all the way around the building and down to a gravel parking lot. 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.

“I’ve been here since 10 a.m.,” Helen Skeet Fischer said when asked, during an interview at about 1:30 p.m., when she arrived.

Victoria and Gregg Hunnicutt said they waited three hours and 20 minutes to vote.

“The problem is people are coming with their absentee ballots, and they have to void them in the system before they can let them vote in person,” Victoria Hunnicutt said. “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.”

The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to cause records in absentee ballots nationwide and in Georgia due to fears of contracting the virus. But it didn’t stop Fulton residents from coming out in droves on the first day of early voting, and the county had health and safety measures in place, including requiring masks and social distancing.

Fulton has staged 30 early voting precincts plus seven other outreach 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. By offering extra early voting and Election Day precincts for the general election, Fulton wants to avoid the debacle of the June 9 primary election, when problems plagued several poll locations, forcing some voters to wait up to five hours to cast their ballots. 

The Hunnicutts, who live in Atlanta’s West End, said they prefer to vote in person.

“I’ve always voted in person,” Victoria Hunnicutt said. “… I usually vote the day of the election, but this is such a big election (that) I wanted to get it done.”

Her husband added, “I like to get in early and get it done. I’m particular about where I want to (cast) my ballot because I don’t have faith in certain (precincts). I feel like I’m comfortable when I cast my ballot

Fischer, who lives in northwest Atlanta, said she voted early because of “an illness in the family.”

“Ordinarily I would vote on Election Day,” she said, adding Chastain is not her Election Day precinct but is close by.

None of the voters interviewed said they had any problems with the voting machines or with the county’s pandemic-related rules and precautions.

“I think people are a little close to each other, but everybody’s wearing masks and trying to be respectful,” Gregg Hunnicutt said.

His wife said county election officials should change the Chastain poll location setup, which uses a room inside the gym building, to a format similar to what their Election Day poll location, Tuskegee Airman Academy, has to provide more space.

“Our voting place is a gymnasium; they use the gymnasium floor,” she said. “They open it up. It’s nice and wide. You’re not crammed in a little room. You have plenty of space and lots of machines, so that was a little disappointing they weren’t using the (Chastain) gymnasium floor itself.”

For more information on early, absentee or Election Day voting in Fulton, including where to vote, visit www.fultoncountyga.gov.

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