Technical issues, long waits mar Fulton County’s first day of early voting
More than 20,000 residents cast ballots on Monday
By Raisa Habersham
The same long lines that plagued the primaries made headlines in Fulton County again, forcing it and Georgia into the spotlight on the county’s first day of early voting.
Speaking to reporters during a media briefing Tuesday, Fulton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Robb Pitts acknowledged the county had “a couple of minor glitches” earlier in the day that contributed to some of the long lines. In some cases, a handful of poll workers didn’t show and printers and scanners were not working. The specific number of no-show poll workers and inoperable printers and scanners was not provided.
There were also issues with the polling pads — devices are the primary point of check-in and activate the cards which contain the ballots — at State Farm Arena, the state’s largest precinct.
“That’s the thing that kept me up all along was the possibility of that problem with the poll pads,” Pitts said. “That’s the one thing we do not control.” Election tech company Knowink makes the devices, which replaced the paper check-in format.
Pitts said poll pad issues at State Farm Arena were resolved in 40 minutes and lines at the precinct were moving smoothly, leading to more than 3,000 people casting ballots at the arena. More than 20,000 residents voted early Monday, the second-highest turnout the county has recorded during early voting.
Despite the glitches, Pitts called the first day of early voting an overall success. “Once the glitch was fixed, It took not more than 15 minutes for anyone to cast a ballot (at State Farm Arena),” he said.
But while technical issues were resolved earlier in the day, they did little to solve the issues of long lines, a problem that is likely to continue throughout early voting.
The county expects to post wait time data on its website this week, but Fulton County elections manager Richard Barron estimated that Fulton’s lines weren’t nearly as bad as other counties. Cobb and Gwinnett residents saw wait times of at least three hours, with some waiting much longer.
Barron pushed back against the idea that the long wait times are a form of voter suppression, insisting the county has worked to increase the number of polling places and poll workers across the county.
“If you have a lot of people engaged in the process, and a lot of people showing up in a high volume, no matter how many polling locations you open up during early voting you’re going to have long lines,” he said.
Asked if there are plans to add more polling machines at early voting locations, Barron said staffing and resources are stretched to the limit.
“We are at capacity for our resources for early voting,” he said, adding the county generally puts the number of machines in a polling site based on the room size and how they can deal with voter flow in each room. “Mega-sites are there to alleviate some of the pressure on all of the early voting sites.”
Barron urged residents to take advantage of the county’s three early voting mega-sites: State Farm Arena, Georgia International Convention Center (GICC) and the Dorothy Benson Senior Center. State Farm has 300 voting machines and GICC and the senior center both have about 50 polling stations.
He also urged voters to vote by mail or at any of the county’s mobile voting buses, which will be at various locations in Fulton County through the early voting period.
“I don’t think there’s any argument that can be made that Fulton County isn’t enfranchising our voters,” Barron said. “And we understand that there are lines, but there is a heightened interest right now.”