Correction: This article incorrectly stated the new polling place that Fulton County was adding for early voting on Wednesday. It is Wolf Creek Library, 3100 Enon Road.
Fulton County cleared most of its backlog of absentee ballot applications over the holiday weekend, with the last 3,500 processed Tuesday, said Fulton’s director of registration and elections Richard Barron.
The backlog was caused by overloaded computer servers.
Barron said the backlog number had been inflated because it counted all emails received by the elections office dating back to March 1, before the presidential primary was delayed. So election officials had been including old absentee ballot applications for the presidential primary, general inquiries from the voters, as well as duplicate applications in the larger count.
Barron said it isn’t clear how many ballots the backlog actually yielded.
Voters whose applications were processed over the weekend or on Tuesday can expect to receive their ballots from a contractor in Arizona late next week, he said.
The backlog has contributed to longer lines for in-person early voting, and means some absentee voters will get their ballots with little time to turn them around by the state’s Election Day deadline of 7 p.m.
The New Georgia Project wants a federal judge to say ballots should be counted as long as they’re postmarked by Election Day on June 9.
Some got tired of waiting and decided to risk their health to cast a vote.
“We decided with COVID-19 (that) we didn’t want to risk not voting, and we certainly didn’t want to risk getting a disease. And we thought voting by mail was perfect solution,” said Jennifer Errion, a trained therapist who retired from doing social work in public schools.
The 67-year-old said she emailed their applications thinking it was be faster, plus it left a paper trail.
But after 55 days of hearing nothing, she and her nearly 80-year-old husband donned masks and left the quarantine of their Virginia-Highlands home to cast ballots at Garden Hills Elementary School.
If she’d waited, their absentee ballot applications would have been processed by elections staff on Tuesday.
Barron said that even if someone who has already voted does get a mail-in ballot, elections staff would know not to double-count when they check the system.
When the servers worked, staff printed out each application that was emailed. But Barron said that created more paperwork and confusion, so the county later switched to entering applications directly from voters’ emails.
“We’ve learned a lot from this going forward about improving our processes,” Barron said. “We were trying to print all the applications out, and we finally gave up on that because the printers were shutting down with all the different attachments and weird (file) extensions.”
Errion said it only took her 10 minutes to vote, but the backlog contributed to long lines at other precincts that caused wait times of three to four hours.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in mid-April said he would mail absentee ballot request forms to the state’s roughly 6.9 million voters as a way to mitigate people getting sick from voting in person.
Expecting more people to mail in their ballots, Barron and the Fulton elections board decided to only open five early voting locations to keep people safe. They were caught off-guard by the lines, and the waits made longer by voters canceling their absentee applications sitting in the county’s server.
Barron said that’s why they are opening of Wolf Creek Library, 3100 Enon Road, as a new polling place on Wednesday.
The influx of absentee mail applications has caused delays in other metro Atlanta counties, but not on the same scale as in Fulton. And it is just another problem elections officials statewide have been managing — from losing poll workers who are fearful of the virus to polling locations that can’t accommodate social distancing.
“It’s been a learning experience for sure,” Baron said.
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