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'I’d wait for hours if I had to': Long lines greet voters on first day of early voting in Georgia

Asha Gilbert, William Peebles, Dennis Knight, DeAnn Komanecky, Mary Landers, Lee Shearer and Miguel Legoas
USA TODAY NETWORK

SAVANNAH, Ga. – Early voting for the Nov. 3 election began Monday in Georgia, and thousands of voters lined sidewalks and streets throughout the state to have their voices heard in one of the most contentious elections the country has ever seen.

The computer failures that plagued the primary elections in June were again an issue in pockets of precincts. There were reports of polling locations with too few poll workers. High turnout on Columbus Day when many voters were off work contributed to the logjam, as did continued concerns among many voters about mail-in ballots.

Election officials in Fulton County were aware of an issue with the electronic poll books used to check voters in at State Farm Arena, where Atlanta's NBA and WNBA teams play, county spokeswoman Jessica Corbitt-Dominguez told the Associated Press. Technicians were on site working to resolve it, she said.

The Savannah Civic Center polling site has 10 voting machines. Two of them shut down abruptly Monday morning, but came back online within 20 minutes with a visit from tech support, said poll worker Andre Wortham. In Pooler, a suburb of Savannah, computers were down at least an hour in the morning and wait times to cast ballots were as long as four hours.

Long lines for early voting have been a common sight in 2020, with voters lining up, sometimes for hours, outside polling locations in Iowa, Virginia, Ohio and elsewhere. Many states have expanded voting options, including early in-person voting, in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

More:Georgia voters report experiencing long lines, machine issues in twice-postponed primary

Herbert Cooper in Pooler said he’d never had to wait this long to vote.

“This is the worst voting experience I’ve ever had,” Cooper said. Cooper had been waiting in line at that point for about three and a half hours.

Chatham County Board of Registrars Chairman Colin McRae said the problem with long lines could have stemmed from the massive amount of voters who showed up for early voting statewide.

“You’ve got this unprecedented volume on the first day of early voting, and you’ve got all 159 counties crushing the system simultaneously trying to get their voters checked in. There have been delays at those check-ins at each of our locations,” McRae said. “That may have been what happened in Pooler, the machines were locking up because the state system that it accesses is overburdened statewide.”

The weight of the election – regardless of party – kept people in line despite the inconvenience. Driven by intense frustration over the current political climate, voters were willing to endure the wait. Early voting lasts until Oct. 30 in Georgia.

Michael Bellotti of Augusta and Antoinette Shackelford of Martinez were willing and ready to wait as long as necessary.

“It’s definitely worth the wait to get that racist sociopath out of office,” Bellotti said outside Bell Auditorium, which is serving as the first advance voting location for Richmond County. “I’d wait for hours if I had to.”

People wait in line to vote early at the State Farm Arena on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Said Shackelford, who voted at Building G3 on Ronald Reagan Drive in Evans: “It’s usually not this bad, but of course ... I’d go through shreds of glass to make sure my vote counts this year.”

Voters began lining up at 6:30 a.m. Monday at the Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections office downtown, waiting to be among the first in line when the polls opened at 8 a.m.

By about 10 a.m., more than 200 were waiting in a line that stretched from the elections office up Clayton Street, across College Avenue in front of City Hall, and then down Hancock Avenue nearly to the Athens-Clarke Water Business Office.

Parking spots nearby were scarce.

More:'Staggering numbers': Early voting is breaking records in 2020, fueled by a big mail-ballot lead for Democrats

“We are slammed,” said elections assistant Pamela Long.

Elections officials deployed additional voting machines inside the office as the line grew. By about 1 p.m., the line had shrunk by about a third and more than 250 people had voted.

The resolve to wait demonstrates how important voting is, especially in this election, some of the voters said.

“I feel like if you live in a democracy, what more democratic thing can you do but vote?” said David Alimi, who was voting for the first time. He had tried in the previous election but had not registered properly. This time, he made sure.

More:As Arizona, Texas and Georgia become less white, voter suppression could keep these states from turning blue

“The winds of change are kind of blowing through America right now. This is not like previous elections. Politics have taken on a new meaning in the last two years,” said Alimi, 26, as he waited about a third of the way from the front of the line. He had waited an hour and 45 minutes so far, he said.

People register before voting early at the State Farm Arena on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Concerns about mail-in voting were prevalent.

“Coming in person, for us, is a condemnation of what has transpired from the postmaster and everything that has gone on with the mail,” said Mira Harrison-Little, who voted at the Eisenhower Drive location in Savannah, home of the Chatham County Election Board. “That debacle, we consider it a voting deterrent, and we will not be deterred. We will not be suppressed. We are going to vote as we normally do.”

Wilmington Island residents Shirley and Peter Roberts brought folding chairs, anticipating the wait. They voted absentee in the primary but didn’t have confidence in that process, Shirley Roberts said. They were unaware of the early voting available at the Islands Library or would have gone there Monday. Still, the long line seemed like a good sign to her, too.

“The greatest thing you can see in a democracy is participation by the populace,” she said.