New Georgia voting system tested in special election

One of Georgia’s new voting machines is seen in a area warehouse on Tuesday, January 20, 2020, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com
One of Georgia’s new voting machines is seen in a area warehouse on Tuesday, January 20, 2020, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com

Georgia election officials reported no major issues with the state’s new voting equipment during a special election Tuesday, but poll watchers worried that problems could mount when voters across the state start using the system during the March 24 presidential primary.

The special election for a state Senate seat was the fourth test run of the voting system, when about 12,000 people cast ballots in 76 precincts across nine southwest Georgia counties. Voters previously tried the system in six test counties in November, in runoffs in December, and in three counties last week for a state House special election.

Voters will choose their candidates on touchscreens, and their ballots will be printed out on paper. Then voters will insert their ballots into scanners to be counted.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said the equipment performed well despite some human errors.

“Tuesday gave us another successful live election,” Raffensperger said Wednesday. “Still, human errors are to be expected in any human endeavor. I’m proud of the counties in quickly putting this special election together.”

Election observers who are suing the state to switch to hand-marked paper ballots said some poll workers stumbled with the voting system.

They said a poll worker struggled to import votes from memory cards, and scanners sometimes wouldn’t accept ballots on the first try. A couple of touchscreens temporarily stopped working, and a technician had difficulties opening a ballot box.

“If we were doing a few counties at a time with this kind of startup, this would be expected and manageable. But trying to do all 159 counties at the same time is just asking for trouble,” said Marilyn Marks of the Coalition for Good Governance, a plaintiff in the paper ballots lawsuit. “It doesn’t look doable to me without a lot of chaos.”

Raffensperger said none of the issues prevented anyone from voting in the special election, and all counties will soon have the equipment they need for early voting to begin March 2.

More than 80% of counties have received all their equipment, and deliveries are scheduled for completion by Feb. 14.