The highest-turnout early voting period in Georgia history ended Friday with crowds of voters, some lines and relatively few problems at polling places across metro Atlanta.
Now all that’s left is Election Day on Tuesday, the final rush of voters motivated by close races for president, Congress and the Georgia General Assembly.
With many votes still be to cast Friday, the secretary of state’s office reported that 181,446 people had voted in person by 5 p.m.
The total early votes during early voting — including absentee ballots sent by mail — had topped 3.8 million. That approached the 4.1 million total votes cast in the 2016 general election, with an additional 2 million expected on Election Day.
In all, turnout could reach nearly 6 million this year.
Despite the high turnout, relatively few problems materialized at metro Atlanta polling places, and wait times were dramatically lower than they had been in the first days of early voting.
Karla Adams called the voting process “phenomenal” — a word she’s never used when describing early voting in DeKalb County in the past.
“I’ve never experienced anything like this before,” she said after finding a nearly nonexistent line at a former Sam’s Club in Stonecrest. “I’ve always had to wait at least an hour, which is discouraging, even though you know you have to do it. I don’t know what’s going on everywhere else, but it’s amazing here.”
Long lines developed Friday afternoon in Cobb and Gwinnett counties. Shortly before 7 p.m., Cobb reported a three-hour wait at its main election office in Marietta, while some other polling places reported lines of two hours or more. Most of Gwinnett’s polling sites reported waits of at least an hour, with some at two hours.
Polling places were held open late to accommodate voters still waiting in line.
Thirty minutes after Cobb’s planned closing time, the line at the Smyrna Community Center had shrunk in half. A poll worker stood at the end of the line to turn away voters who arrived too late.
The line stretched well down the street Friday evening, and it took voters about an hour and a half to get through the line. The community center was one of the polling places that was closed Thursday due to a power outage.
Poll workers in bright vests walked along the line, answering questions and providing updates as night fell. Volunteers with a wagon full of drinks and snacks patrolled the line as well.
DeKalb and Fulton counties reported much shorter wait times throughout the day, with some polling sites having no waits at all.
Power outages caused by Tropical Storm Zeta continued to keep some voting locations closed.
Two of Fulton County’s voting sites, Wolf Creek Library and Chastain Park gym, remained closed Friday. Voters at those locations were served by the county’s voting buses, which were loaded with voting machines. Voters could also go to State Farm Arena, the largest voting location in Georgia, according to the county.
Credit: Steve Schaefer
Credit: Steve Schaefer
In Gwinnett County, one location was initially closed because of a power outage, but Lucky Shoals Park Community Recreation Center reopened about 8:15 a.m., when there was enough natural light to see.
In Douglas County, all early voting sites opened after the county had been knocked offline Thursday.
Still, wait times were low across much of the region compared with the initial days of early voting, when some residents waited eight hours or more to cast their ballots. Technical difficulties with a state election database at the start of early voting didn’t resurface again as lines kept moving Friday.
At both the Riverside EpiCenter and the South Cobb Regional Library, voters reported shorter waits than the ones shown on the official Cobb voting website.
One voter, Brian Smith, said the whole process took him about 20 minutes despite the county website reporting a 45-minute wait.
Smith said he was voting for the first time in 20 years, so he did not have much experience at other polling places. Poll workers kept the line moving by having voters fill out their check-in forms before entering the building.
“It was easy, 20 minutes in and out,” Smith said.
There were no long lines despite a steady flow of voters at the C.T. Martin Natatorium and Recreation Center in Atlanta. Residents said voting went smoothly. Several voters said they trust local election officials to conduct an election that produces accurate results.
“You have to trust the process,” Eugene Titus said. “Vote and do what you’ve got to do to change the situation.”
Voters lined up before the doors opened at the Shorty Howell Park Activity Building in Gwinnett, stretching down a path into a wooded area into the park. The line moved quickly when voting began.
One voter in line, Brian Marsh, said the line was “pretty long this early, but it’s impressive.”
He and his wife, Shewanda Marsh, 41, said work, weather and getting kids to school led them to go to the polls on the final day of early voting.
“We’re just happy to be able to exercise our right,” said Brian Marsh, 38.
Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi
Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi
At the Cobb County Government Center, the line to vote was about 75 people deep at about 7:45 a.m.
That translated into wait times between half an hour and an hour.
Elizabeth Stone, a stay-at-home mom, said she voted Friday because she’s concerned about whether voting will run smoothly on Election Day as officials regroup from the power outages and school closings after Thursday’s storm.
Stone said she has disliked the ugliness of the election and campaigning. But she has faith that her vote will count.
“I’d like to think that people in my state will honor my choice. I have no heavy concerns," Stone said. "Maybe that’s naïve. Maybe that’s just hopefulness.”