After bumpy start, voting lines show signs of improvement

Fulton County residents wait to cast their ballots Thursday at State Farm Arena during the fourth day of early voting in Georgia. Wait times generally improved in metro Atlanta after a tough start to early voting at the beginning of the week.  (Alyssa Pointer /

Credit: Alyssa Pointer /

Credit: Alyssa Pointer /

Fulton County residents wait to cast their ballots Thursday at State Farm Arena during the fourth day of early voting in Georgia. Wait times generally improved in metro Atlanta after a tough start to early voting at the beginning of the week. (Alyssa Pointer /

When Georgia’s early voting period began Monday, one common prediction about the election came true: Long lines formed outside many metro Atlanta polling places.

Despite low expectations set during the June primary, tales of all-day wait times and images of lengthy, socially distanced lines once again ignited arguments about voter suppression and governmental incompetence.

Wait times significantly improved at many polling places Thursday, with the longest delays shrinking from as much as 12 hours at the beginning of the week to about two hours in packed precincts. In some areas, voters cast their ballots in a matter of minutes.

Election offices in Cobb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties set up websites this week to help voters make better decisions about when to vote, showing wait times at each polling place. While voters again swamped some precincts Thursday morning, waits declined to less than an hour in most locations by the afternoon, according to the websites.

Aside from record-breaking turnout numbers, technology was the main factor causing slow-moving lines at polling places with high turnout earlier in the week. The software used to check voters into the polls was sluggish when looking up voter information from the state’s database, creating a bottleneck at check-in that led to voting machines sitting unused — a frustrating sight that led to voter complaints.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office increased bandwidth with the state’s election software vendor, which led to immediate improvements for many counties, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported.

But voters continued to experience scattered problems Thursday.

At the Milton Library in Fulton County, more than 50 people were in line at about 1 p.m. Voters exiting the polls said they waited two hours, partly due to a slowdown when check-in computers had trouble connecting to servers earlier in the morning — the same issue that dogged polling places all week.

Monday and Tuesday, Atlanta Journal-Constitution readers reported wait times upward of four and five hours at multiple North Fulton polling places.

Poll manager Theresia Carrington said that each day the lines and wait times have both decreased. But Thursday was the first day she had experienced the check-in error that brought voters to a near standstill for about 10 to 15 minutes.

“Today it went down, but we were able to get it right back up, so we didn’t have a lot of issues with that,” Carrington said. “We open at 8 and we’ve had people here at 7 in the morning. The voters are ready and they have a great attitude — even when they have to wait.”

Tiffany Stone, like several other voters, reported that the line was especially slow earlier in the morning but began to pick up after some time. After waiting an hour in line as 12:30 p.m. was approaching, she was nervous about the possibility she wouldn’t be able to make a 1 p.m. work call.

“It’s crazy, though, like why isn’t there an app where you could see what the wait times and lines are like?” Stone asked. “That would be superhelpful. Especially with work.”

In fact, Fulton debuted a new online tool Thursday that tracks wait times at the county’s many early voting sites, though an internet outage rendered the tool unusable for a while just a few hours after it went live.

Some polling places saw significant decreases in lines and wait times, including the Dunwoody Library in north DeKalb County, where the total time to vote was down to about 30 minutes Thursday afternoon.

Poll workers there said the day had gone smoothly and they hadn’t experienced any trouble connecting to the servers at check-in.

The human element has contributed to increased wait times as well, with on-the-job training taking place for new and inexperienced poll workers.

Laurie-Ann Douglas, a voter from Snellville, said poll workers at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds were being trained to check in people after the polls opened.

“There were 10 check-in computers, but only five poll workers were using them and the other five were looking over their shoulders, getting trained on the process,” Douglas said. She was one of the first in line at the polling place but said that the check-in process took about 45 minutes of her hourlong voting experience.

Douglas also said poll workers appeared to have technical difficulties setting up their equipment, including problems connecting the computers to printers. Although the polling place opened on time, she said, it was not ready for people to vote right away.

In cases like this, county officials expect poll workers to become more proficient in their jobs, and equipment issues will be solved as the early voting process continues. The beginning of early voting can be critical, as untested poll workers and equipment face extremely high turnout. Election officials say voter turnout at polling places is typically highest at the very beginning and end of the early voting period.

One common characteristic among early voters is a determination to have their voice heard and their vote counted, no matter the wait time.

“I refuse to be discouraged. I came out here with the plan knowing that it would take some time and I was going to give it all the time it needed,” Fulton voter Joy Stephens said as she waited in line Wednesday at the Sandy Springs Library. “I appreciate how long this line is — how many people are dedicated to exercising their right to vote.”