Cobb elections director says new voting system caused problems

Nina Wilson drops off her absentee ballot while dozens of other voters line up to cast their votes in person on the first day of early voting at the Cobb County Board of Elections & Registration on Monday, May 18, 2020, in Marietta. Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com

Nina Wilson drops off her absentee ballot while dozens of other voters line up to cast their votes in person on the first day of early voting at the Cobb County Board of Elections & Registration on Monday, May 18, 2020, in Marietta. Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com

Cobb Elections Director Janine Eveler on Friday blamed an overly complicated new voting system, understaffed polls, and erratic guidance from the state for long lines and excessive wait times during the June 9 primary.

“This new system has four times the number of components as the previous system,” she said of Georgia’s new $104 million electronic voting system. “There were things that we could have done better, but there were things that were inherent in this system that it’s going to take us a while to make sure that the poll workers completely understand it.”

Her comments were made just before the board of elections voted to certify the election’s results, ten days after polls closed.

Eveler said the state was making changes to its instructions right up to Election Day, and provided no troubleshooting guide when poll workers ran into technical issues. Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger has proposed placing a technician in each polling place for the November election, she said, which would help but would also add an additional expense that would fall to the county.

More than half a dozen voters and candidates spoke during the meeting to express their frustration over voting problems they said disproportionately affected polling places in communities of color and left-leaning areas.

Ebonee Barrett said she and her husband faced significant hurdles during early voting, including being turned away several times by poll workers who took their phone number but never called or texted to tell them to come back.

“My concern is that there were people behind us who did not get to vote that day,” she said. “Voting is an essential right and everyone deserves to vote and it should not take over eight hours to do so.”

Several other speakers said the lines in South Cobb on Election Day were significantly longer than in other areas of the county.

Eveler said the formula used to determine how many resources are sent to each voting location is the same throughout Cobb, but there’s no way for them to know which areas will see the most attrition of poll workers. Cobb, like other jurisdictions, had trouble hiring experienced poll workers, many of whom were afraid to work the election in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Eveler said the county saw voter turnout of 36 percent, including a record number of absentee ballots that were mailed in or dropped off.

Some board members took umbrage at some speakers’ suggestion the county had engaged in deliberate voter suppression.

“It’s offensive to all the people who are serving,” said board member Neera Bahl. “There’s no bias.”

But board member Jessica Brooks said the board should acknowledge that “a lot went wrong” both at a state level and locally.

“Whether we call it voter suppression or not, it is voter suppression,” she said. “It suppresses the vote, whether it is intentional or unintentional.”