We waited al­most five hours to vote in my Ge­or­gia precinct

The Beaufort Gazette - - Opinion - BY ON­TARIA WOODS

I woke up at 6:30 a.m. to go to my usual polling place at the An­nis­town El­e­men­tary School, in Snel­lville, Ge­or­gia. I fol­low pol­i­tics very closely, and with the heavy cov­er­age of the Ge­or­gia gover­nor’s race, I was es­pe­cially ex­cited to par­tic­i­pate this year. When I ar­rived at 7:05 a.m., there were al­ready a cou­ple dozen peo­ple ahead of me. All of us were a lit­tle sur­prised at the wait – we’d shown up right when the polls opened, think­ing that we would beat the line – but we didn’t think much of it, at first. I’d shown up in my gym clothes, ex­pect­ing to fit in a work­out be­fore my 10 a.m. shift at the tele­vi­sion sta­tion.

Soon, though, I re­al­ized that wasn’t go­ing to hap­pen. Back in 2016, when my par­ents and I had come here to vote, we’d waited for about a half-hour, but that line was al­ways in mo­tion. This time, we were at a stand­still. They weren’t just hav­ing a slow start – some­thing was wrong.

Around 7:45 a.m., the poll work­ers told us that they were hav­ing tech­ni­cal dif­fi­cul­ties with the elec­tronic vot­ing sys­tem, Ex­pressPoll, specif­i­cally with the ma­chine that checks you in and puts your bal­lot in­for­ma­tion onto a card that you take into the vot­ing booth. They’d let us know when they’d re­solved the is­sue. Hear­ing this, a few peo­ple be­gan to walk away, but oth­ers en­cour­aged them to stay.

So we set­tled in. At 8 a.m., I texted my man­ager to let her know about the sit­u­a­tion. At around 8:15 a.m., we were told that vot­ing of­fi­cials were bring­ing us a new ma­chine. Two ma­chines ar­rived at 8:45 a.m. The poll work­ers tried us­ing those for an­other 45 min­utes un­til they re­al­ized that the is­sue might ac­tu­ally be with the cards. Some­one would have to go to a sep­a­rate lo­ca­tion in Lawrenceville to bring them back, which would take them about an hour. In the mean­time, we were of­fered provi- sional pa­per bal­lots. But when we called the elec­tion pro­tec­tion hot­line, we were ad­vised against it – we weren’t sure if those bal­lots would be counted cor­rectly.

Some of us perched on kid­die-size chairs bor­rowed from the class­rooms, or sat on the floor. A few folks stepped out to take a cig­a­rette break. Around 9 a.m., some even made a Wal­mart run and brought back juice, wa­ter and lit­tle snacks. It was the kind of sit­u­a­tion where you didn’t have to ask some­one to hold your spot – the line wasn’t go­ing any­where.

Peo­ple were frus­trated and in dis­be­lief. None of us were ex­actly sur­prised, though. Our sub­urb of At­lanta, Gwin­nett County, is a pretty racially mixed neigh­bor­hood, and had Brian Kemp and Stacy Abrams signs posted ev­ery- where (though it did go for Hil­lary Clin­ton in 2016). We’d all been fol­low­ing the news, and the prob­lems peo­ple were hav­ing with reg­is­ter­ing to vote, or with mak­ing sure their names were on the rolls. Just a cou­ple of weeks ago, the county elec­tion of­fi­cials were sued for re­ject­ing ab­sen­tee bal­lots. In a way, we were ex­pect­ing some­thing to go wrong.

The of­fi­cials got back to the school with the cards around 11. Some­one else brought in dough­nuts. At this point, most of us were de­ter­mined to stick it out. Wait­ing for nearly 5 hours tested my re­solve, but I de­cided that I was go­ing to make it to the booth no mat­ter what. I wasn’t go­ing to leave, and I wasn’t go­ing to set­tle for a pa­per bal­lot.

I was fi­nally able to vote at 11:45 a.m., and I let my boss know I was on the way. I got changed into pro­fes­sional clothes, and made it into the of­fice. But plenty of peo­ple don’t have this kind of flex­i­bil­ity: I saw maybe 20 or 30 peo­ple give up on the line.

Later I heard that three other precincts had prob­lems with the elec­tronic sys­tem. They ended up ex­tend­ing polling hours at my lo­ca­tion, un­til 9:25 p.m. Peo­ple wor­ried that Kemp was try­ing to keep peo­ple from vot­ing. Though the is­sues we faced to­day might not be the re­sult of his in­ter­fer­ence, those fears seem valid now.

WE’D ALL BEEN FOL­LOW­ING THE NEWS, AND THE PROB­LEMS PEO­PLE WERE HAV­ING WITH REG­IS­TER­ING TO VOTE, OR WITH MAK­ING SURE THEIR NAMES WERE ON THE ROLLS. JUST A COU­PLE OF WEEKS AGO, THE COUNTY ELEC­TION OF­FI­CIALS WERE SUED FOR RE­JECT­ING AB­SEN­TEE BAL­LOTS.

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