New voting machines lead to lines and problems on Georgia election day

Voters cast ballots at Park Tavern in Midtown Atlanta on Tuesday, June 9, 2020. JOHN SPINK / JOHN.SPINK@AJC.COM

Voters cast ballots at Park Tavern in Midtown Atlanta on Tuesday, June 9, 2020. JOHN SPINK / JOHN.SPINK@AJC.COM

Problems with Georgia's new voting computers plagued the state's primary election Tuesday, leading to lines and voters leaving without casting their ballots.

Poll workers said they had difficulties turning on voter check-in computers, encoding voter access cards and installing touchscreens.

Voters waited in lines for hours at various precincts across Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties.

Georgia’s $104 million voting system was rolled out statewide Tuesday, introducing paper ballots to elections for the first time in 18 years. The system uses touchscreens attached to printers that create paper ballots.

Statewide Voting Implementation Manager Gabriel Sterling said the problems were caused by poll workers who didn’t know how to set up the equipment.

“So far we have no reports of any actual equipment issues,” Sterling said. “We have reports of poll workers not understanding setup or how to operate voting equipment. While these are unfortunate, they are not issues of the equipment but a function of counties engaging in poor planning, limited trianing and failures of leadership.”

One frequent problem was that poll workers were inserting voter access cards upside-down, according to the secretary of state’s office.

A precinct manager at Cross Keys High, where voting had essentially shut down Tuesday morning, said he couldn’t use voter check-in computers.

“The touch pads aren’t receiving or accepting the authorizations, and we are out of provisional ballots. There’s nothing we can do,” said Precinct Manager Jonathan Banes.

Some poll workers said they were being trained on the job after being hired at the last minute. Hundreds of Atlanta-area poll workers quit before the election because of the risk of the coronavirus pandemic.

"Even the poll workers don't know what to do," said DeKalb Commissioner Mereda Davis Johnson. "These are new machines and you expect people to run them in less than a couple of months? If this is a preview of November, then we're in trouble."

Marilyn McGuire, precinct manager at Stephenson High School in Stone Mountain, said the two voter check-in tablets used to scan voter identifications aren’t working. One wasn’t turning on at all, and another had 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. It’s hard to talk about it’s so frustrating. But at least people are staying — they’re not going anywhere.”

In Gwinnett County, some precincts received their voting equipment late or to the wrong locations.

The largest number of problems were concentrated in Fulton County, which has struggled with precinct closures and poll worker losses.