After bad primary experience, many vote early at State Farm Arena

Atlanta Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce was a poll volunteer on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020, - the first day of early voting - at State Farm Arena in downtown Atlanta.

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

When Stephanie Asmar voted in Georgia’s primary election in June, she had to wait more than two hours and was frustrated by the process. Despite never having voted early before, she decided to vote at State Farm Arena during the first day of early voting on Monday.

“I had a bad experience with the primaries and there were long lines,” Asmar, 33, said. “I just wanted to try to avoid that. I had never voted early and I thought it would be cool to come down here and do it.”

Asmar arrived before the polls opened and said the process took her about 20 minutes from start to finish.

Explore2020 Georgia election guide from the AJC

Other voters at State Farm Arena on Monday echoed Asmar’s sentiments. Whether they’d had similarly poor experiences voting in June or just wanted to avoid long lines, many people chose to vote early because they felt it would be quicker and simpler than waiting until Nov. 3.

“I just felt there was an urgency to get out and be done with it,” said Tia McCoy, who had never voted early until this year. “I do think there will be more people voting, obviously, and I didn’t want to be caught in the crowds.”

Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce spent time as a volunteer at the arena helping the process.

The 300 voting machines at State Farm Arena make it Georgia’s largest voting precinct and the arena, like the other sports venues around the country that will serve as polling places, is designed to handle large numbers of people moving in and out simultaneously.

The Hawks have customer service staff on-site in addition to security and poll workers, which helped when technical difficulties occurred early on Monday.

State Farm Arena's marquee billboard greets voters Monday, Oct. 12, 2020, the first day of early voting at the downtown Atlanta arena. (John Spink/John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Some voters received “invalid card” errors when inserting their green voter card into the touchscreen voting machines, which forced the poll workers to reboot all 60 voter check-in machines and lines stopped for about an hour between 8:30-9:30 a.m. The staff at the arena passed out water bottles to waiting voters and kept them informed of what was going on.

“The line moved very swiftly once the issue was resolved,” McCoy said. “I think because they communicated to us, it helped. Communication is so critical. … They communicated to us there was a glitch, they were working on it, they knew what the problem was, and before we knew it, we were moving very swiftly.”

Though some voters had to wait for over an hour, once the technical issues were resolved the lines moved quickly. By 10:45 a.m., voters were consistently moving through the process in about 30 minutes.

Numerous people referenced the significance of this election as something that drove them to vote early. College student John Bronzi, 19, who is voting in his first general election, said he felt a “nice sense” of civic responsibility to cast his vote.

“This is probably the biggest election of at least my lifetime,” said Toni Moore, 47. “A lot on the line here, especially being in the middle of a pandemic. Healthcare, the economy, so many things that have to change. Just to be able to come out and vote (is important).

"Back when we did the primary, (there was a) lot of voter suppression. To have State Farm Arena here and open up their facility, it kind of eliminates that and encourages you even more to come out.”

In Other News