Election Day in Georgia brings minor glitches and short waits

Voters cast their ballots Tuesday at Park Tavern in Piedmont Park in Midtown Atlanta. JOHN SPINK / JOHN.SPINK@AJC.COM
Caption
Voters cast their ballots Tuesday at Park Tavern in Piedmont Park in Midtown Atlanta. JOHN SPINK / JOHN.SPINK@AJC.COM

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

State’s new voting law produces changes

Voters encountered scattered problems at several metro Atlanta polling places on Election Day, but long lines weren’t among them.

Most voters cast their ballots within minutes during Tuesday’s elections for Atlanta mayor and city leaders across Georgia. It was the first major election under the state’s new voting law, which primarily affects absentee voting but also makes several changes to in-person voting.

While voting went smoothly for the most part, some voters faced difficulties, including in Fulton County, which is facing the possibility of a state takeover of its elections board under the voting law. A state-appointed performance review panel was on hand in Fulton, closely watching its election operations.

ExploreLive voting results and news coverage

Voter check-in tablets weren’t delivered until hours after polls opened at North Springs High School, forcing voters to use emergency paper ballots instead of touchscreen voting computers. At Sutton Middle School and Mount Pisgah United Methodist Church, optical scanners that read ballots weren’t working.In Cobb County, a judge ordered eight polling places to stay open up to a half-hour late because voting didn’t start on time in the morning.

ExploreFull coverage of the Atlanta mayoral election

But most voters reported they didn’t face any obstacles at the polls.

Alina Lee said she waited in line for 4 1/2 hours during the 2018 election for governor, but her voting experience was quick and easy this time.

“It was super easy. It was a breeze. It took me literally 90 seconds to vote, so it was super fast,” Lee said after voting at Butler Street Baptist Church.

Voting never stopped at North Springs High School, even without the check-in tablets, said Gabriel Sterling, chief operating officer for the secretary of state’s office. Election workers relied on backup plans to issue ballots to voters.

Caption
Voter check-in tablets weren’t delivered until hours after polls opened Tuesday at North Springs High School, forcing voters to use emergency paper ballots instead of touchscreen voting computers. But voting never stopped there, said Gabriel Sterling, chief operating officer for the secretary of state’s office. (Adrianne Murchison/AJC)

Credit: Adrianne Murchison

Voter check-in tablets weren’t delivered until hours after polls opened Tuesday at North Springs High School, forcing voters to use emergency paper ballots instead of touchscreen voting computers. But voting never stopped there, said Gabriel Sterling, chief operating officer for the secretary of state’s office. (Adrianne Murchison/AJC)
Caption
Voter check-in tablets weren’t delivered until hours after polls opened Tuesday at North Springs High School, forcing voters to use emergency paper ballots instead of touchscreen voting computers. But voting never stopped there, said Gabriel Sterling, chief operating officer for the secretary of state’s office. (Adrianne Murchison/AJC)

Credit: Adrianne Murchison

Credit: Adrianne Murchison

Meanwhile, voters also had to use emergency procedures at the locations where there were problems with scanners.

After printing out her ballot, Buckhead resident Rebecca O’Connor had to drop it in a metal box instead of scanning it in electronically. Poll workers told her the ballot would be scanned later.

“It makes me unsettled that I didn’t actually get to cast my ballot in person. ... It just gave me pause,” O’Connor said. She also called Fulton County and a voter protection hotline.

The issues were soon corrected, and election officials said they feel confident that they ran an efficient election that served voters well.

“It looks as though we’ll have a successful election,” Fulton County Elections Director Richard Barron said.

ExploreHow Georgia's voting law works

The election came with a handful of changes required by Georgia’s new voting law, Senate Bill 202.

It’s now illegal for volunteers to hand out food and drinks to voters waiting in line, a response to concerns about electioneering just before voters make their choices. It’s a misdemeanor to distribute food and drinks to voters within 150 feet of the outer edge of a polling place or within 25 feet of any voter standing in line.

Some voters, such as Yvette Boulware, were prepared to break the law and hand out water to voters in line. But then she found there wasn’t a line at the Cathedral of St. Philip on Peachtree Road.

“I know that’s a no-no, but I have them on hand just in case,” Boulware said. “For any elderly or others who might be out here, I always have that on the ready.”

The voting law also requires voters to report to their assigned local precincts, and those who don’t do so risk having their votes not counted. Provisional ballots cast in the wrong polling place won’t be counted except after 5 p.m., when voters have little time to drive to their neighborhood precincts.

Some voters showed up at early voting locations, thinking they could also cast their ballots there Tuesday. Voters are required to cast ballots at their assigned precincts on election day.

“There are many, many people going in there, and they are telling them you need to go somewhere else to vote,” Kevin Sprague of Kirkwood said after trying to vote at Bessie Branham Park. “Now I’ve got to get in my car and go back over there to vote.”

DeKalb County election officials said Bessie Branham has never been used as an election day precinct.

ExploreVoices: Metro Atlanta voters have their say on Election Day

After polls close, local election offices must report the total number of in-person and absentee ballots received by 10 p.m., according to the voting law. The disclosure will let the public know how many votes have yet to be counted when results start coming in.

There were 14 candidates in the Atlanta mayor’s race, creating the likelihood of a runoff Nov. 30. Runoffs are required if no candidate receives more than 50% of votes cast.

Most non-Atlanta results were expected to be tabulated and reported by 11 p.m., and city of Atlanta results were expected by midnight, Barron said.

Turnout was light in most local races without a high-profile presidential or statewide race on the ballot.

When polls opened at 7 a.m. at Lawrenceville City Hall, roughly half the people who walked in were city employees ready to begin their workday rather than voters. Bruce Johnson said he was happy to be among them to cast his vote.

“I’m one of the strange ones that actually enjoys voting on Election Day,” Johnson said. “I just feel it’s an event, and I always feel great when I vote.”

Staff writers J.D. Capelouto, Lautaro Grinspan, Zach Hansen, Anjali Huynh, Adrianne Murchison, Leon Stafford and Kelly Yamanouchi contributed to this article.

The Atlanta mayoral runoff election

The Atlanta mayor’s race will require a runoff election on Nov. 30 between Felicia Moore and a Andre Dickens. A number of other metro area races will also require runoffs.

TUESDAY, Nov 16: Mayoral runoff election debate live stream on AJC.com

The 7 p.m. event featuring candidates Andre Dickens and Felicia Moore will be hosted by The Atlanta Press Club Loudermilk-Young Debate Series, in partnership with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Visit the debate page on ajc.com to watch the a replay.

AJC Voter Guide: What metro Atlanta voters need to know about the Nov. 30 runoff

ATLANTA: THE RACE FOR CITY HALL How Andre Dickens and Felicia Moore are differentiating themselves

ELSEWHERE: Several mayoral, council races proceed to runoffs in metro Atlanta

FULL COVERAGE of the Atlanta mayoral election