OPINION: On Monday, I secured my vote

Voter stickers are displayed near electronic voting cards at the Lang Carson Community Center in Atlanta's Reynoldstown community, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Voter stickers are displayed near electronic voting cards at the Lang Carson Community Center in Atlanta's Reynoldstown community, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

My experience at the polls last week brought an avalanche of emails.

Readers who accused me of blaming President Trump for my troubles, even though I blamed no one. Readers who’d had similar experiences, which I was saddened to know. Readers who said they were uninterested, which didn’t surprise me. And a reader who was so infuriated by my experience she said it messed up her digestion. I wasn’t eating when I tried to vote but the experience ruined my morning.

“I am horrified at your experience but not really surprised,” the self-described 84-year-old CPA wrote. “How dare they — everyone you encountered who didn’t return your messages; everyone who screwed up the records; our Secretary of State for not making sure everything was correct before October. And so on. Just the total incompetence of it all — Democrats as well as Republicans.”

She got it. It didn’t matter who was responsible. It certainly didn’t matter whether they were Democrat or Republican. This kind of thing shouldn’t be happening at all.

On Monday, my husband and I tried again.

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Within 15 minutes of our arrival at the Robert Fulton library, the same early voting site where we tried to vote last week, we’d secured our vote.

No guessing the number of marbles in a jar. No delays.

That’s what you call VIP status, dear readers.

Along with an apology, it was offered to us early Friday in one of those emails I mentioned.

“Come to the side door by the picnic tables and say shaker rag,” poll worker Sheila Ford wrote. “It is by the Abbots bridge road parking lot. That is the front of the line and we will process you without delay.”

In a subsequent email, Ford extended that same VIP treatment to “any of your neighbors too!!! Even if they were not there in the first day.”

Jessica Corbitt, director of Fulton County external affairs, told me that all voters have been mailed updated precinct cards, but did not notify Shakerag Elementary School precinct voters of this specific issue. Only those of us who tried to vote during the morning of Oct. 12 — the first day of early voting — were unable to do so, she said. The issue had been fully addressed by early that afternoon.

Still, she said, in an effort to make sure voters are aware the glitch has been corrected, her office will post notices on the Nextdoor neighborhood network and ask Johns Creek officials to help spread the message.

There was more good to come out of my bad experience.

Several people wrote to tell me about the Democratic Party of Georgia Voter Protection Hotline, including volunteers Susan Kupferberg and Amy Landesberg.

Landesberg said she’d “heard many similar complaints.”

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In addition to helping voters find polling places and check registrations, hotline volunteers document and escalate voter concerns, she said.

“We also make sure voters are aware of (Secretary of State) Office-fueled websites where people can follow their vote from absentee ballot application to vote acceptance, and see if their in-person vote was accepted as well,” Landesberg wrote.

Here is the hotline number that she and another reader suggest voters keep in their pockets should they need to call while at the polls: 1-888-730-5816.

Here’s the web address for the Georgia My Voter Page: www.mvp.sos.ga.gov/MVP/mvp.do.

And here’s the web link for Ballottrax, which she said sends alerts to voters as their votes move through the system: georgia.ballottrax.net/voter/.

When I finally heard from Corbitt late Sunday, she first apologized for not getting back to me sooner.

Apology accepted.

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The problem my husband and I faced, she said, stemmed from moving voters in the Shakerag Elementary School precinct to another precinct.

“That precinct was moved in the ElectionNet system, but unfortunately this was not updated in our EasyVote system,” she wrote. (The EasyVote software used by Fulton and about 80 other Georgia counties is intended to streamline the voter check-in process.)

“This prevented the poll worker at Early Voting last Monday from being able to print your Absentee-in-Person application, which is part of our early voting check-in-system rather than having early voters fill out the absentee application in person. (As you are probably aware, early voting is considered ‘absentee in person’ in Georgia.) The situation was remedied on Monday when it came to our attention," she said.

Each week, Gracie Bonds Staples will bring you a perspective on life in the Atlanta area. Life with Gracie runs online Tuesday, Thursday and alternating Fridays.
Each week, Gracie Bonds Staples will bring you a perspective on life in the Atlanta area. Life with Gracie runs online Tuesday, Thursday and alternating Fridays.

I wasn’t aware early voting is considered “absentee in person” in Georgia, but Corbitt’s explanation left me a bit confused. It was my understanding that voters are not assigned to precincts for early voting. I always believed that meant we could vote anywhere in the county.

Voters can still vote early at any location in their county. The moves Corbitt said her office made reduce the number of voters at each precinct on Election Day only.

Corbitt went on to say that over the past few months, Fulton County added 90 new polling places for the Nov. 3 General Election.

This was done to reduce the total number of voters assigned to any precinct to no more than 5,000.

“One factor leading to long lines in June stemmed from locations that had a very high number of voters assigned,” she wrote. “This change was intended to remediate that issue. Out of thousands of voters who were moved, a very small number, including you, were affected by this clerical error. Since the situation has been remedied you will now be able to vote without issue.”

Thank God, she was right.

Jimmy and I had no issues. We secured our vote.

It’s safe to say our ancestors, those who died for that right, would be proud we didn’t quit.

Find Gracie on Facebook (www.facebook.com/graciestaplesajc/) and Twitter (@GStaples_AJC) or email her at gstaples@ajc.com.

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