Early voting in the momentous 2020 general elections started off with a bang Monday as thousands of Georgians poured into precincts, eager to cast perhaps the most important ballots of their lives.
More than 128,000 people piled into polling places across the state to kick off the three-week stretch of early voting, according to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office.
It was a record number of first-day ballot casters who turned out amid the lingering health terror of coronavirus and unprecedented nationwide doubt in the legitimacy of voting processes in the United States.
“It’s a very important election,” said Theressa Odums, a longtime Cobb County voter. “So I wanted to make sure I was here to vote.”
Seated in a fold-out chair beneath an umbrella in the hot sun, Odums was one of many voters who spent their entire day waiting in line to vote at the South Cobb Regional Library in Mableton.
They were among the thousands of people who queued up from morning to dusk at precincts throughout the state, forming lines that stretched around entire street blocks, particularly in urban areas like metro Atlanta and Savannah.
Bernadine Conner, who stood in line with Odums from 9 a.m. until well past 4 p.m., said she wanted ample breathing room to cast her ballot before Election Day on Nov. 3 when lines outside polling places could very well stretch far longer.
“I’m just being patient and having the fortitude to stick it out,” Conner said. “That’s what it takes.”
Voter turnout in Georgia is expected to top 5 million next month with a presidential contest, double the usual number of U.S. Senate seats and a fierce push by Democrats to flip the balance of power in the Georgia House of Representatives for the first time in 16 years.
Looming over all is the highly contagious, vaccine-less respiratory virus that has splintered social interactions and local economies, coupled with the most decisive test yet for Georgia’s new paper-and-scanner voting machines that drew intense scrutiny even before the global pandemic struck.
Janine Eveler, the elections director for Cobb County, said her nine early-voting precincts saw no technical issues with voting on Monday save for a few minor hiccups that were quickly mended.
Contributing more to the hours-long lines, Eveler said, were revised processes to check in early voters via certifications and signature oaths, which took longer than normal in order to abide by social-distancing practices.
On top of that, droves of voters had requested absentee ballots prior to arriving in-person at polling places Monday, representing a fraction of the roughly 1.6 million Georgians seeking to vote by mail amid the pandemic.
Every voter who requests a mail-in ballot but shows up in-person must formally cancel their ballot by signing an affidavit, which adds more time to the already long waits at precincts, Eveler said.
Despite the relatively smooth sailing at her precincts, Eveler said late Monday that in her more-than two decades as Cobb’s election chief, she had never seen such a busy first day of early voting.
“The first day is always heavier because there’s pent-up excitement,” Eveler said. “But this has been a perfect storm.”
Uncommonly long lines have been anticipated for months now, following the shocking wait times that confronted Georgia voters during the primary elections on June 9 during the height of the COVID-19 outbreak.
To prepare, Raffensperger’s office has pushed to recruit more poll workers, doled out grant funds for absentee drop boxes, invested in new technology to broadcast line waits in real time and let voters apply for mail-in ballots online, and mustered more on-site technical assistance to help local poll workers rapidly solve potential equipment issues.
But the true test will come on Nov. 3 when millions of voters head to the polls across the state, election officials hunker down to count mounds of mail-in ballots and Georgians conclude what is shaping up to be one of the most impactful elections in decades.
Take it from Scott Traslavina, a Cobb County voter who ditched a day of work as an appliance repairman to stand in line to vote at the Mableton library.
Departing the voting booth after hours of waiting, Traslavina said he felt anxious to have missed so much work with times as tough as they are now. But even more so, he said he felt great relief knowing that his vote for the state and country’s future leaders will count.
“I didn’t trust that my vote would be counted with mail-in because I thought current administrations here in the state and country might impede that,” Traslavina said. “But now I know it’s done.”
Early voting continues in Georgia through Oct. 30.
Photos: The line outside South Cobb Regional Library in Mableton stretched around the block on the first day of early voting for the Nov. 3 elections on Oct. 12, 2020. (Photo by Beau Evans)