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Scattered issues reported on Georgia voting system in special election

Carla, a polling assistant, cleans a polling machine at the Paulding County Municipal Building on Monday, Oct. 14, 2019, in Dallas, Georgia. Paulding County tested Georgia’s new voting machines on Monday during their municipal election. Paulding, along with six other counties, were the first to test the new machines that will be in all polling stations in the state for the first presidential primary election. (Photo/Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Carla, a polling assistant, cleans a polling machine at the Paulding County Municipal Building on Monday, Oct. 14, 2019, in Dallas, Georgia. Paulding County tested Georgia’s new voting machines on Monday during their municipal election. Paulding, along with six other counties, were the first to test the new machines that will be in all polling stations in the state for the first presidential primary election. (Photo/Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said Georgia's new voting system performed well during a special election Tuesday, saying voters experienced "just two minor issues."

But poll watchers said they observed more problems, including scanners that wouldn’t initially accept ballots and a lack of voter privacy when they made their choices on touchscreens.

The special election for a state House seat in southwest Georgia was an early test of the state's new voting system, which is scheduled to be used by all who cast ballots in person during the March 24 presidential primary.

Voters will pick their candidates on touchscreens that print out paper ballots. Then voters will be able to review their ballots and insert them into scanning machines for tabulation.

Raffensperger said several voter access cards, used to activate ballots on the touchscreens, weren’t working because a poll worker had been inserting them the wrong way in the computer that encodes them.

In addition, 13 ballots had to placed in an emergency ballot box when a ballot scanner lost power. A technician found that the scanner wasn’t plugged in.

“The transition to any new system will inevitably trigger some human error, and we experienced some minor ones Tuesday,” Raffensperger said in a statement Wednesday. “Our challenge is to scale up this success to more than 2,000 polling places in March for the presidential preference primary.”

The problems didn’t prevent anyone from voting or delay precincts from opening on time, he said.

Ronnie Martin, who watched voting in eight precincts in Colquitt County on Tuesday, said she witnessed several occasions when voters had to repeatedly turn around and flip their ballots over before they could be scanned. She said some voter check-in tablets didn’t initially start up correctly, and poll workers had to reboot them.

Martin said the touchscreens are so large that poll workers and other voters could see how their neighbors were voting.

“I’m very worried,” Martin said. “The hiccups that have been witnessed so far in the low turnout situation haven’t been critical, but when you get the turnout we expect in presidential primaries, it’s going to be a huge problem.”

During a test run of the new voting equipment in six counties in November, election officials reported several problems. Voting machines rebooted, voter access cards couldn't be activated by check-in computers and some scanning machines wouldn't accept voters' ballots.

State election officials said the problems were mostly caused by human mistakes that will be corrected by further training of poll workers.

The special election Tuesday filled a vacant seat in the state House after Rep. Jay Powell, a Republican from Camilla, died in November.

Joe Campbell, chairman of the Mitchell County Republican Party, won the three-way race with about 58% of nearly 5,000 votes cast.