Voters see big turnout and short waits in tense Georgia runoffs

January 5, 2021 Atlanta: Voters lined up to cast ballots on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021 at the Park Tavern located at 500 10th St NE in Atlanta. Georgia’s long moment in the national spotlight culminated Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, when state voters cast their votes to determine which party would control the U.S. Senate. Georgia voters also voted to elect a member of the state Public Service Commission, which regulates energy and utility rates and issues. The two most expensive Senate races in history saw more than $833 million been spent by the four campaigns and outside groups supporting them, blanketing the airwaves and stuffing mailboxes across the state. Much of that money has come from organizations with no direct connection to Georgia. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)
January 5, 2021 Atlanta: Voters lined up to cast ballots on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021 at the Park Tavern located at 500 10th St NE in Atlanta. Georgia’s long moment in the national spotlight culminated Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, when state voters cast their votes to determine which party would control the U.S. Senate. Georgia voters also voted to elect a member of the state Public Service Commission, which regulates energy and utility rates and issues. The two most expensive Senate races in history saw more than $833 million been spent by the four campaigns and outside groups supporting them, blanketing the airwaves and stuffing mailboxes across the state. Much of that money has come from organizations with no direct connection to Georgia. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

More than 1.2 million voters turned out on Tuesday for Georgia’s nationally important U.S. Senate runoffs, easily surpassing the total seen on Election Day in the presidential election.

Most voters said they were able to cast their ballots with ease, experiencing few long lines. Voters waited an average of 1 to 5 minutes across the state, according to the secretary of state’s office.

The attention to the runoffs, which will decide control of the U.S. Senate, drove voters to the polls. About 988,000 people voted on Election Day in November.

But the runoff wasn’t without its obstacles, with some equipment not working when polls opened and voters worried about whether their vote would count.

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President Donald Trump fueled their anxieties, tweeting that voting machines weren’t working in Republican strongholds, a reference to problems at polling places in Columbia County near Augusta. The state’s voting system manager, Gabriel Sterling, responded that the problems were corrected by 10 a.m. and all ballots would be counted.

Voters there had to fill out paper emergency ballots because equipment needed to start up ballot scanners and touchscreens wasn’t programmed correctly. The faulty technology was replaced, and it didn’t affect ballot counting.

“For the most part, we’ve seen a pretty smooth election, and I think that’s a testament to these thousands of very hardworking elections officials and poll workers that have done yeoman’s work under high intensity,” Sterling said.

Voters said they were relieved the election was nearly over but feared for the future of democracy and election integrity. While voting was easy, many Georgians were concerned about their candidates and their votes.

Melissa Valeriano, a nurse living in North Macon, planned to vote for Republican U.S. Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, even though she is not sure what her vote is worth.

“I still feel like there’s a lot of irregularities,” Valeriano said, citing unsubstantiated allegations of voting fraud that Trump promoted after the presidential election.

Zaki Ali voted at Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in Marietta, saying voting was an opportunity to make a change during the coronavirus pandemic. The Georgia State University student voted for Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.

While he said his peers are realizing how important voting is, the election season has been tiring. ”At the end of the day we’re trying to create change,” Ali said.

Other voters said they were excited for election day to finally arrive. Gentry Mosley, an Atlanta voter, said he wasn’t bothered by the countless political mailers, phone calls and text messages.

“I’m glad they’re doing it. We need to get people out there to vote. If it takes a million text messages to my phone, I’m happy,” Mosley said.

Election day was much different from the primary election in June, when some voters, especially in Fulton County, waited over three hours to cast their ballots in short-staffed and overcrowded polling locations. This time, there were more poll workers and voting precincts, and fewer difficulties operating the state’s voting system.

But there were a limited number of glitches.

A few ballot scanners jammed or didn’t scan ballots properly, Sterling said. In addition, six touchscreens had to be replaced. But that’s a small number, about 0.02% of voting touchscreens across the state.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said he hopes the efficiency of the election will help boost voters’ confidence after a barrage of suspicions following Georgia’s close presidential election, which Democrat Joe Biden won by about 12,000 votes over Trump.

“I have always said that after every election, half the people will be happy and half will be disappointed, but everyone should be confident in the reliability of the results,” Raffensperger said.

A handful of voting locations were kept open late to compensate for delays earlier in the day. Those precincts were located in Chatham, Cherokee, Cobb, Columbia, DeKalb, Gilmer, Gwinnett, Tift and Ware counties, though most of the voting extensions lasted only a few minutes past the normal 7 p.m. closing time.

Staff writers J.C. Capelouto, Adrianne Murchison and Carly Wanna contributed to this article.

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