Voters cast their ballots at the Winnona Precinct at Columbia Theological Seminary’s Richard Center at 701 S. Columbia Drive in Decatur on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

Problem with new election equipment delays voting in Georgia counties

A glitch with Georgia’s new voter check-in computers caused delays in most of the six counties testing it, causing some precincts to stay open late to accommodate voters who left without casting their ballots.

The problem occurred in at least four of the six counties where the new voting system was being tested Tuesday before it’s rolled out statewide to 7.4 million registered voters during the March 24 presidential primary. Most Georgia voters were still using the state’s 17-year-old voting technology Tuesday.

Poll workers weren’t able to create voter access cards on new voting check-in computers manufactured by KnowInk. Those cards activate touchscreen voting machines so that they display the ballot associated with the jurisdictions where voters are registered.

In Decatur County, near the Florida border, some voters waited 45 minutes for the problem to be fixed. Decatur election officials decided to keep precincts open an hour later, until 8 p.m.

“Let’s get these kinks resolved now, before March 24,” said Carol Heard, chief elections officer for Decatur County. “My hair was red before today. Now it’s gray.”

The same issue also occurred in Bartow, Carroll, Paulding and Lowndes counties. Catoosa County had no problems. 

Poll workers couldn’t complete the check-in process on the computers, called Poll Pads, said Carroll County Elections Supervisor Greg Rigby. Voter information came up on the screen, but the Poll Pads wouldn’t advance to the final step of encoding voter access cards.

Some voters were delayed about 15 or 20 minutes, and one precinct remained open until 7:30 p.m. to accommodate a voter who had to leave for work before casting a ballot in the morning, Rigby said. Election workers got around the problem by manually pulling up ballots on touchscreen voting machines so that they displayed the ballot associated with the jurisdictions where voters are registered.

“It was a programming issue. We did have that same problem that everybody else did,” Rigby said.

KnowInk technicians resolved the issues in each of the counties, election officials said.

Lowndes County also kept polls open an hour later to ensure everyone has an opportunity to vote, said Elections Supervisor Deb Cox.

“Our voters were able to keep voting” using a backup check-in process, Cox said. “We’re having one hour of extended voting just in case anyone didn’t get to vote, or shied away.”

Bartow County Elections Supervisor Joseph Kirk said some of the Poll Pads weren’t functioning properly, but there was always at least one working in each precinct.

“It didn’t slow us down at all,” Kirk said. “Everything went fine.”

In Paulding County, election hours weren’t extended because the county didn’t have to stop voting when the problem occurred, said Elections Supervisor Deidre Holden

The problem didn’t occur during the previous three weeks of in-person early voting, when about 9,000 voters in the six pilot counties cast ballots on equipment made by Dominion Voting Systems, which won a $107 million state contract this summer to replace Georgia’s electronic voting machines with a system that prints out paper ballots.

“It ran as smooth as silk” during early voting, Heard said. “The voters have been overwhelmingly positive with the new system.”

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