UPDATE: DeKalb extends voting at all precincts open past 7 p.m.

Voters outside the Cross Keys High School voting precinct in DeKalb County on Tuesday morning. JOHN SPINK / JOHN.SPINK@AJC.COM
Voters outside the Cross Keys High School voting precinct in DeKalb County on Tuesday morning. JOHN SPINK / JOHN.SPINK@AJC.COM

UPDATE, 8:30 p.m.: DeKalb County officials announced that all precincts that had remained open past 7 p.m. -- whether due to voters still in line or other reasons -- would stay open until 9:30 p.m.

No list of affected precincts was immediately available.

Ray of Hope Christian Church near Decatur will remain open until 10:10 p.m., as previously reported.

UPDATE, 6:23 p.m.: DeKalb County has extended voting at seven precincts until the listed times.

Anyone in line by the listed times will be permitted to vote.

  • Narvie J. Harris Elementary, 3981 McGill Drive, Decatur—7:45 p.m.
  • Clarkston Community Center, 3701 College Ave., Clarkston—7:29 p.m.
  • Medlock Elementary School, 2418 Wood Trail Lane, Decatur—7:15 p.m.
  • Stephenson High School, 701 Stephenson Road, Stone Mountain—7:45 p.m.
  • Stephenson Middle School, 922 Stephenson Road, Stone Mountain—7:30 p.m.
  • Kittredge Magnet School, 1663 East Nancy Creek Drive NE, Atlanta—9:26 p.m.
  • Ray of Hope Christian Church, 2778 Snapfinger Road, Decatur—10:10 p.m.

ORIGINAL STORY: Voting in DeKalb County got off to a rough start Tuesday, with voters, poll workers and county officials reporting significant technical issues and hours-long lines at many precincts.

With similar scenes playing out in other metro Atlanta communities, DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond called the situation a "statewide meltdown." He said the county had already received hundreds of calls by 9 a.m., two hours after polls opened.

Thurmond apologized to voters early Tuesday and said elections staff was working to rectify issues where possible. He said the county was getting water and chairs to precincts where voters had long waits.

The secretary of state's office blamed the issues on "user error," saying problems were caused by poll workers who didn't know how to set up equipment.

Shortly after 1:30 p.m., Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger issued a statement saying his office had opened an investigation into what DeKalb and Fulton counties “need to do to resolve this issues before November’s election.”

Thurmond and other county officials, meanwhile, laid the issues upon the state's feet.

"We have a new voting system that Secretary of State (Brad) Raffensperger and the administration put in place," he said. "There were concerns that there might be disruptions, and apparently those disruptions are manifesting themselves."

Thurmond later called for a “comprehensive, top-to-bottom investigation into voting issues, including the Secretary of State’s preparation for and administration of this election.”

The issues began early.

State Rep. Bee Nguyen reported Tuesday morning that “all machines” were down at the Coan Park precinct near Edgewood.

Precinct manager Karene Hill said the machine issues at Coan Park arose as soon as the first voter tried to insert their card to cast a ballot.

"That ballot doesn't pop up," Hill said, adding that there was a technical issue between the system that signed in voters and the computers where voters cast ballots.

She said she didn't know the exact cause of the issue.The system was down for more than two hours Tuesday morning as poll workers offered provisional ballots, she said. Eventually, they found a way to manually override the system before every voter so the ballots showed up.

"If we have to do that all day, that's going to be a very long day," she said.

At the voting precinct at Cross Keys High School, volunteers passed out water bottles to a crowd of 100 voters lined up for hours outside the building. Countless others left the line snaked around the building or never joined at all, as word spread the machines weren’t working and the precinct quickly ran out of the 20 provisional ballots it had on-hand.

Jonathan Banes, the precinct manager, said he tried repeatedly to troubleshoot the equipment but his PIN number won’t work. He pleaded with DeKalb elections officials for technical assistance and more provisional ballots.

Outside, frustrated voters waited for updates. One man marched up and down the line after waiting for three hours, exclaiming “I can’t believe we can’t vote” before leaving.

Near the front of the line, 80-year-old Anita Heard had been waiting since around 6 a.m. to cast her ballot.

“What is going on in Georgia? We have been waiting for hours. This is ridiculous. This is unfair.”

Asked around 9:45 a.m. if she planned to stay, Heard said: “Of course. I worked for 40 years — where else am I going?”

Aerialle Klein sounded equally determined.

“I’m not leaving until I cast a ballot,” she said. “This is voter suppression — I’m shaking just talking about this. But I’m staying. This is my civic duty. Something has to change.”

A similar scene played out at the Peachcrest Elementary School voting precinct.

Ahkeba Green, 43, said voters were told the systems were down and the new voting machines were not working. She ended up waiting more than two hours, leaving her daughter in line at one point so she could go home and bring water to pass out to voters, who were lined up down several hallways inside the school.

The lines got moving again after 9 a.m.

“It kind of gives you a voter suppression-type feeling,” Green said. “Sometimes it comes to frustrate you, but you have to push past that and know that it’s our right to vote.”

Near the front of the line at Peachcrest, Deborah Porcher of Decatur said she had requested an absentee ballot that never came.

She had already been in line for two hours.

“This is too much trouble. It’s ridiculous,” said Porcher, 61. “It’s only discouraging.”

Marilyn McGuire, precinct manager at Stephenson High School in Stone Mountain, said the two polls pads used to scan voter identifications aren't working. One isn't turning on at all, another has the wrong date, leading to lengthy delays.
"This was supposed to be seamless and today nothing is working," McGuire said. "Today's been a disaster. People are mad. They've been waiting for hours. We have to use an emergency procedure to individually encode voting cards to let them vote. It's all manual."

The DeKalb Board of Elections recently changed the locations for more than two dozen voting precincts, citing regular locations' concerns about coronavirus. Those changes appeared to add to the confusion at some precincts Tuesday morning — but not everywhere.

At Peachtree Charter Middle School in Dunwoody, there was no line Tuesday morning and voters were in and out of the building quickly.

Poll worker Billie Williams said they had about 100 or so people for the morning and had experienced no technical problems. The biggest issue she faced was directing voters from the precinct usually hosted at the middle school and those from the nearby Georgetwon precinct, which is normally hosted in a local nursing home.

Georgetown voters were casting ballots a few doors down from regular Peachtee Charter voters.

Shortly after 11 a.m., DeKalb elections board chairman Samuel Tillman issued a statement saying the county was “experiencing technical issues with the new state-issued voting machines.” He encouraged anyone turned away without casting a ballot to go to any DeKalb County voting precinct and request a provisional ballot.

He also urged voters experiencing issues to call the elections office at 404-298-4020.

Around 1:45 p.m., Tillman called into a commission meeting to brief them on the issues. He said the majority of precincts seemed to functioning properly at that point and that the county was working to identify precincts that opened late and would need to remain open pass the normal 7 p.m. closing time.

Tillman said that “98%” of the county’s problems with with equipment -- and most of that with the “poll pads” used to check voters in.

“We have had issues with the poll pads since Day 1,” Tillman said.

Several county commissioners expressed frustration during meetings that were taking place as voting issues unfolded. They balked when Thurmond read a statement from the secretary of state’s office blaming counties for the problems.

Later, presiding officer Steve Bradshaw said the following: “It's astounding to me what an abdication of leadership that is, to push the ownership down to the counties. I was raised that if you mess up, fess up."

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