The loading dock of a non-descript government warehouse in Atlanta’s Blandtown neighborhood was busy Tuesday with men in beanies unloading bubble-wrapped parcels.
The payload? Machines that will help decide who will lead the free world (and Fulton County government) — and get those votes counted more quickly.
Fulton County elections workers processed more than 3,000 new voting machines and 1,000 other pieces of equipment that will tally votes starting with the March presidential primary election.
The shipment to Georgia’s most-populated county is a key moment in the largest rollout of elections equipment in U.S. history.
The state awarded Dominion Voting Systems a $104 million contract this summer to provide more than 75,000 new computers and printers to 2,600 precincts. The 18-year-old electronic machines in Fulton lacked a paper ballot and are being replaced with a patchwork of touchscreens, printed ballots and scanners.
Richard Barron, Fulton’s director of registration and elections, said he hopes these machines will help the county shed its well-earned reputation for posting its results late on Election Day.
In November 2017, for example, Fulton had all its votes counted at 1:41 a.m. Cobb County was finished at 10:23 p.m., and DeKalb County at 11:23 p.m.
Derrick Gilstrap, Fulton’s election systems manager and head of the warehouse, said he knows the county has the reputation of being slow.
But, he said, the new machines will streamline tallying the votes, with the added benefit of a paper record.
“It’s going to help give some of the voters piece of mind,” Gilstrap said. “But there’s going to be some that think the system is being manipulated.”
An Atlanta native, Gilstrap said his mother was a poll worker at Peyton Forest Elementary School while she was pregnant with him.
In utero or not, the 46-year-old said he was raised to take elections seriously. Now, his 19-year-old daughter will cast her first vote on new machines Gilstrap and his staff will set up.
Barron said the new system will work like this:
• Crews at the warehouse will install the machines into a mobile metal cabinet and deliver them to Fulton’s 198 precincts turnkey ready, meaning precinct workers won’t have to fiddle around with wires before the polls open on Election Day.
• Voters walk up to the six-foot cabinet, cast their votes on a touchscreen, then get a printout showing their selections and an encoded pattern of dots and squares that a computer uses to record votes. That paper is scanned and kept — for 30 days at the warehouse and then for two years at the Fulton Superior Courthouse.
• Once the polls close, two people take the flash drive from the scanner with all the precinct’s results to one of the county’s five check-in locations.
• Elections staff there will lock the flash drive in a bag that a police officer and an elections worker drive to the warehouse, which holds the only key that can unlock the bag.
Then staff tabulate the vote.
In the old system, each machine had its own memory card, meaning there were 3,000 cards that had to get to the warehouse.
Barron said there will be two or three extra people at the polls to help everyone out with the new system. He said it’s going to take time to train precinct worker before the March 24 primary. There are three weeks of early voting leading up to Election Day.
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