Technical problems arise as early voting starts in Georgia
ATLANTA (AP) - Long lines of people wanting to cast ballots started in Georgia on Monday as the first face-to-face polls took place, and problems soon began to develop in the state's most populous county.
Election officials in Fulton County were aware of an issue with the electronic ballot books used to check voters in the State Farm arena, where the Atlanta Hawks NBA team plays, said county spokeswoman Jessica Corbitt-Dominguez.
The line started moving when the arena opened to vote at 8 a.m. and some voters were able to cast their ballots, but a short time later it stalled when the ballot books stopped working with hundreds of people waiting. By mid-morning the problem appeared to be resolved and the lines cleared in the arena, which with 300 voting machines is the largest early voting venue in the state.
"We're disappointed it happened," Hawks CEO Steve Koonin told reporters, but noted that there are still many early election days left.
Some people lined up before daybreak to be among the first to take part in early face-to-face polls that last through October 30 in Georgia. Voter turnout may have also increased as Monday is a federal holiday and more people are unemployed.
While voters must vote at their assigned polling station on polling day, they can vote at any polling location in the county they live in during the early voting.
Given the record turnout expected for this year's presidential election and fears of exposure to the coronavirus, election officials and stakeholders have encouraged people to vote ahead of time, either in person or by postal vote.
Problems with electronic ballot books also contributed to long lines during the Georgian primaries in June, along with high voter turnout, polling station consolidation and a shortage of poll workers.
Natalie Rawlings, 49, first tried to vote early in an Atlanta library, but there was no parking lot and there was a long line, so she went to the State Farm Arena, where the line did not move for 45 minutes.
Someone came out and announced that there was a "known software problem" that they wanted to solve. A handful of people left, but most stayed. It took Rawlings about an hour and a half in total to vote, but she said she wasn't frustrated.
"I'm outside. It's a beautiful day. They give away water. There are worse things. And everyone is appropriately socially distant," she said.
She received a postal vote but didn't trust the postal service, so she turned in the blank postal vote to interview workers before voting in person on Monday.
Democrat Rawlings said she was motivated by the "rudeness" of President Donald Trump's language and his apparent lack of respect for other branches of government and world leaders: "It has to end."
Election officials also reported long lines in republican Floyd County, northern Georgia, who also had a problem with electronic ballot books. This initially slowed things down at the county's two open polling stations, but was resolved in about an hour, said Robert Brady, the county's main polling clerk.
“Typically in Floyd County you have a line that lasts five minutes. Today it takes up to 30 minutes, ”said Brady. "It's up to the large - and I'm talking about large - voter turnout."
In densely populated Cobb County, northwest of Atlanta, people waited two to four hours Monday morning, said Janine Eveler, director of elections and registration.
"We had prepared as much as we could, but there is only so much space in the rooms and parking spaces in the parking lot. We are making full use of both," said Eveler.
"People double-park, we pretty much have a standstill in our parking lot," she added.
In Macon, Seth Clark arrived at the main election office around 9:30 a.m. on Monday and found a U-shaped line around the parking lot. He was still waiting 90 minutes later, guessing he was only about halfway through the line.
"I have never seen so many people on the first day of the early voting," said Clark, who won the election for an impartial seat on the Macon-Bibb County Commission that summer.
The long line was caused in part by coronavirus precautions. People stood six feet apart and wore masks, Clark said. Some brought folding chairs and books.
"It seems to be going smoothly," said Clark. "It's just a lot."
With the emergence of Georgia as a potential battlefield state, substitutes from the Republican and Democratic presidential campaigns were due to travel to the state on Monday.
Jill Biden, the wife of former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, planned to perform with prominent state Democrats in DeKalb County before traveling to Columbus to meet with military and veteran families.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump Jr. became a gathering of Republican voters in Savannah, off the coast, and in Kennesaw, just outside of Atlanta.
Associated press representatives include Brynn Anderson and Ben Nadler in Atlanta and Russ Bynum in Savannah.
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