Thousands of people lined up to cast early votes in Georgia on Monday, with some waiting up to 12 hours, sparking fears that election day could be a disaster next month.
At least two counties briefly had problems with the electronic pollbooks used to check in voters and the issue halted voting for an hour at State Farm Arena, where the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks play.
But in Marietta, lines continued into the night after the World Central Kitchen team finished serving dinner and met someone walking out who arrived at 8am.
‘He waited 12 hours to vote today,’ a Facebook post read.
One man was seen walking away from a broken machine at the State Farm Arena but technicians resolved the problem after an hour and lines soon cleared at Georgia’s largest early voting site, with 300 voting machines.
Voting lines continued in Marietta, Georgia on Monday night as the World Central Kitchen team finished serving dinner to those waiting in line and met someone walking out who arrived at 8am. ‘He waited 12 hours to vote today,’ a Facebook post read
One man was seen walking away from a broken machine at the State Farm Arena but technicians resolved the problem after an hour
By 1pm there were waits of six hours or more in Cobb County. Hundreds of people slowly moved along a line that snaked back and forth outside Cobb’s main elections office in a suburban area northwest of Atlanta
Monday was the first day for advance voting in Georgia and people showed up by the hundreds to cast their ballot early at the Bell Auditorium in Augusta
People wait in line to vote in Decatur, Georgia on Monday
‘We’re disappointed that it happened,’ Hawks CEO Steve Koonin told reporters, but he noted that there are still plenty of days left. Early in-person voting runs through October 30 in Georgia.
One of Fulton County’s two mobile voting stations was outside Morningside Baptist Church and was set to open at 8am, but by 10am they had only been able to process one voter due to technology issues.
Early voting was underway after a federal judge on Sunday expressed serious concerns about Georgia’s new election system but declined to order the state to abandon its touchscreen voting machines in favor of hand-marked paper ballots for the November election.
The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by voting integrity activists that challenges the election system the state bought last year from Dominion Voting Systems for more than $100 million. The activists argued that the system places an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote because voters cannot be confident their vote is accurately counted.
State officials argued that Georgia has significantly updated and secured its election infrastructure in recent years, and that the new machines have been thoroughly tested and that security measures will prevent problems. They also said last-minute changes would be extremely costly and difficult to implement in time.
While voters must vote at their assigned polling place on Election Day, they can vote at any voting site in their county during early voting. Some people lined up before dawn Monday to be among the first to vote. Turnout also may have also been boosted because Monday is a federal holiday, so some people were off work.
But University of Georgia student Courtney Wetzel participated in a Zoom online class as she and her friend Ashley Lee waited with others in a line to vote in Suwanee.
Problems with the electronic pollbooks – along with high turnout, the consolidation of polling places and shortages of poll workers – bedeviled Georgia’s primary in June.
The dysfunction renewed questions about Georgia’s ability to conduct fair elections, two years after the state drew heavy scrutiny during a closely watched gubernatorial election that also saw long waits and other problems.
Atlanta Hawks basketball coach Lloyd Pierce helps voters waiting in line at State Farm Arena
People cast their ballots during early voting for the upcoming presidential elections inside of The Atlanta Hawks’ State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia
Georgia’s largest early voting site has 300 voting machines but the system was down for an hour
We’re disappointed that it happened,’ Hawks CEO Steve Koonin told reporters about the glitch
The venue with a seating capacity of 21,000 for NBA games and 680,000 square feet of open space, is one of three dozen sports arenas and stadiums across the US doubling as early voting sites before the election
One of Fulton County’s two mobile voting stations sits in the parking lot of Morningside Baptist Church on Monday morning, Oct. 12, 2020 for the first day of early voting. The polling place was set to open at 8, bamut by 10am they had only been able to process one voter due to technology issues
With record turnout expected for this year’s presidential election and fears about exposure to the coronavirus, election officials and advocacy groups have been encouraging people to vote early, either in person or by absentee ballot.
Many answered the call on Monday, showing up in numbers that overwhelmed some locations. Atlanta teacher Kim Franklin arrived at State Farm Arena at 7.30am.
Rick Carter, 63, a computer contractor in Atlanta, brought a folding chair for his wife Vera Carter while the couple waited.
Carter said he and his wife considered voting by absentee ballots but were spooked by allegations that Trump’s postmaster general was trying to sabotage mail-in voting to help the president, who has repeatedly said, without evidence, that the practice was ripe for voter fraud.
‘I know it’s easier than voting in person, but with everything going on with the Post Office, we weren’t sure our ballots could get there on time,’ he said. ‘This feels like the safest bet.’
President Donald Trump says voting by mail is ripe for fraud and has promised to challenge ballot counts.
Republicans especially have tried to limit the impact of mail-in voting, as surveys show Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to mail their ballot rather than vote in person.
Amber McReynolds, chief executive of the National Vote At Home Institute and former head of elections in Denver, Colorado – who helped set up the state’s universal by-mail voting system – said everyone is focused this year on mailed ballots.
‘I believe that there are actually more problems in in-person voting,’ she said.
People showed up by the hundreds to cast their ballot early at the Bell Auditorium in Augusta
Voters stand in line for up to eight hours in front of southern Cobb regional library for the first day of early voting in Cobb County
People stand in line on the first day of early voting for the general election at the C.T. Martin Natatorium and Recreation Center in Atlanta, Georgia
McReynolds said three key battleground states that could decide the winner — Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan — haven’t given themselves enough time to open, verify, and then count millions of mailed ballots.
In Pennsylvania they battled for a court ruling to throw out ballots if the voter uses the wrong envelope.
In South Carolina Republican attorneys won a ruling requiring envelopes for ballots to be signed by witnesses as well as the voter.
But the issue of rejected ballots could be crucial.
The 2000 presidential battle between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore was decided by a 537 vote margin in Florida, and hinged on the Supreme Court blocking a broad recount that could have restored thousands of rejected ballots.
The venue with a seating capacity of 21,000 for NBA games and 680,000 square feet (63,174 square meters) of open space, is one of three dozen sports arenas and stadiums across the US doubling as early voting sites before the election.
The idea of turning State Farm Arena into a polling place started with Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koonin, majority owner Anthony Ressler and head coach Lloyd Pierce, the outspoken chair of the NBA’s racial justice committee.
The team next approached Robb Pitts, who oversees local elections as chair of the Fulton County Commission.
The initiative caught on nationally thanks in part to support from More than a Vote. The organization was started by the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Lebron James and other athletes to inspire African-Americans and everyone to register and vote.
Voters in Dekalb County stand outside of the Dunwoody library, waiting in line and filling out forms
Americans vote early on the first day of early voting at the Dekalb County Dunwoody library
Soon, the NBA’s Orlando Magic followed suit at the Amway Center, the National Football League’s Detroit Lions at Ford Field, NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium, the NBA Houston Rockets at Toyota Stadium and Major League Baseball’s Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, among others.
By allowing early voting in arenas and stadiums, where social distancing can be better assured, organizers hope to alleviate fears that voters may have about contracting the coronavirus while exercising their constitutional rights.
‘I’m here because I did my research. Their booths are spread wide all across the stadium floor. I think it’s safer,’ said Franklin, 57, who wore a black ‘Notorious RBG’ T-shirt in honor of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
By 8am, hundreds of Atlanta-area voters – standing six feet apart – had joined Franklin outside the arena in the heart of Georgia’s Fulton County, with nearly 800,000 registered voters, more than any other in the state. Election officials expected thousands of them to vote on Monday.
By 1pm there were waits of six hours or more in Cobb County, which was once solidly Republican but has voted for Democrats in recent elections. Hundreds of people slowly moved along a line that snaked back and forth outside Cobb’s main elections office in a suburban area northwest of Atlanta. A brief cheer went up when a pizza deliverer brought a pie to someone in line.
Natalie Rawlings, 49, had prepared to vote absentee but didn’t trust the postal service, so she turned in the blank absentee ballot to poll workers before voting in person Monday.
A woman wearing a face mask and shield sits as she waits in line for early voting on Monday in Marietta
Voters line up for early voting at a Fulton County mobile voting station Monday morning at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Southwest Atlanta
A long line extends into a nearby residential neighborhood near the Atlanta-Fulton Library’s Ponce De Leon branch
She went first to a library in Atlanta, but there was no parking and a long line, so she went to State Farm Arena, where the line didn’t move for 45 minutes. A handful of people left after someone announced that there was a ‘known software issue.’ But most stayed. In the end, it took her about 90 minutes to vote.
‘I´m outside. It´s a nice day. They´re giving water away. There are worse things. And everybody is appropriately socially distanced,’ Rawlings said.
Rawlings, a Democrat, said she was motivated by the ‘coarseness’ of President Donald Trump’s language and his seeming lack of respect for other branches of government and world leaders: ‘It´s gotta end.’
Cobb County Elections and Registration Director Janine Eveler said the county had prepared as much as much as it could, ‘but there´s only so much space in the rooms and parking in the parking lot.’
‘We´re maxing out both of those,’ she said. ‘People are double parking, we have gridlock pretty much in our parking lot,’ she added.
Steve Davidson, who is Black, said the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis and others had fought too long and hard to secure his place at the polls for him to get tired and leave.
‘They´ve been fighting for decades. If I’ve got to wait six or seven hours, that´s my duty to do that. I´ll do it happily,’ Davidson said.
Lines wrapped around buildings in solidly Democratic DeKalb County and early voters also turned out in big numbers in north Georgia’s Floyd County, where support for President Donald Trump is strong.
A problem with the electronic pollbooks also slowed things initially at the two early voting locations in Floyd County, but it was resolved within about an hour, said Robert Brady, the county´s chief election clerk.
Voters wait in the rain in a line to vote that has an estimated 3-hour as the first day of early voting is underway at the George Pierce Park in Suwanee
University of Georgia student Courtney Wetzel (L) participates in a Zoom online class as she and her friend Ashley Lee (2L) wait with others in a line to vote
‘Typically in Floyd County, you have a line that lasts five minutes. Today it´s taking up to 30 minutes,’ Brady said around 11.30am. ‘It´s because of the huge – and I´m talking about huge – turnout.’
But Lesli Terrell-Payne, who celebrated her 51st birthday Monday by taking the day off to vote, said she waited for more than three hours after arriving at Garden Lakes Baptist Church in Rome around 10.30am. There was only one electronic pollbook to check people in, which seemed to cause a bottleneck, she said.
Brady didn’t immediately return a phone message from the Associated Press seeking comment on the long lines later in the day.
In Macon, Seth Clark arrived to vote at the main election office at about 9.30am and found a U-shaped line wrapping around the parking lot. It ended up taking him three hours to vote.
‘I´ve never seen this many people on the first day of early voting,’ said Clark, who won election over the summer to a nonpartisan seat on the Macon-Bibb County commission.
‘It seems to be going smoothly,’ Clark said. ‘It´s just a lot.’
With Georgia emerging as a battleground, both the Republican and Democratic presidential campaigns sent surrogates to the state Monday.
Jill Biden, wife of former vice president and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, appeared in DeKalb County with prominent state Democrats before traveling to Columbus to meet with military and veteran families.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump Jr. was set to rally Republican voters in Savannah near the coast and Kennesaw, just outside Atlanta.
Former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams speaks to a crowd, with Dr. Jill Biden behind her, in Dekalb County, Georgia at a rally in support of Joe Biden’s campaign during the first day of early voting in the state