New Georgia voting system rolled out statewide as early voting begins

The return of paper ballots to Georgia elections arrived Monday, with few problems reported during the first day of early voting in the state’s presidential primary.

The beginning of the three-week early-voting period marked the biggest test yet of Georgia’s $104 million voting system, which produced a paper ballot for the first time in 18 years.

Turnout was light Monday, and few voters had to wait in line. That could change after more voters decide on their candidates before the March 24 election.

Photos: Early voting begins in Georgia

Most voters praised the new voting system, which combines touchscreens and printers to create a paper ballot. 

Election officials said there were minor issues when poll workers didn’t plug in power cords and incorrectly programmed voting cards, but those problems were resolved and voters were able to cast their ballots.

David Lambert, the first voter at the Sandy Springs Library, said he was delayed a few minutes until poll workers got his voting machine working properly.

“There’s a whole extra step where you’ve got to print and scan the ballot,” Lambert said.

Other voters said voting was a breeze.

“It was simple,” said Paulette Wicks of Stone Mountain after voting at the DeKalb County elections office. “If I had known it was going to be this fast, I probably wouldn’t have tried to be here on the first or second day of voting.”

Related: Where to vote early in metro Atlanta

Georgia election officials are replacing the state’s 18-year-old electronic voting computers, which lacked a paper ballot that could be used to check the accuracy of results.

But the new system introduces many parts to the process. Besides replacing more than 30,000 touchscreens, election officials are also adding ballot printers and scanners to the voting process.

“The state is prepared and county election officials are prepared,” Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said. “Voters like it. It’s a bipartisan like. People really like that they’re looking at that paper ballot. They feel that they can verify their choices.”

View and print: Guide to Georgia’s new voting system

Stresses on the voting system will only rise as turnout increases. Raffensperger said he expects 75% of voters to wait to cast their ballots until Election Day on March 24.

In response to concerns about the spread of germs and the coronavirus, some precincts are providing hand sanitizer. The secretary of state’s office hasn’t issued health guidance to counties.

Besides early voting, Georgia’s 7.2 million registered voters can also participate in the presidential primary by mailing absentee ballots, avoiding the need to show up at their precincts.

Raffensperger said he’s expecting significant turnout, but likely less than half the size of this November’s presidential election, when turnout could reach 5.4 million.

Just over 2 million voters participated in the 2016 presidential primary.

As voting began at the Wolf Creek Library in South Fulton on Monday, poll workers were overheard saying they were locked out of their system, but they resolved the issue as the first voters walked through the door. Fulton County officials didn’t respond to a request for more information.

Many voters said the addition of a paper ballot to Georgia’s voting process will increase election security. Voters will be able to review their choices before walking to a scanner and inserting their ballot.

“I like the backup of a printed ballot,” said Anja Ricks, a southwest Atlanta resident.

Steven Roberts of Lawrenceville said the voting system was “very easy” to use after he cast his ballot at the Gwinnett County elections center.

“I think my 3-year-old grandson could do it,” Roberts said.

During the primary, voters can pick a Democratic Party, Republican Party or nonpartisan ballot. Georgia is an open primary state, meaning voters don’t have to be affiliated with a political party and can choose either party’s ballot.

Democratic Party ballots list 12 candidates, including several who have dropped out of the race. Republican Party ballots list only President Donald Trump. Nonpartisan ballots show local races, without any presidential candidates.

At the Dunwoody Library, just 14 voters cast their ballots in the first hour. Voters said the touchscreens were clear and the paper ballots gave them confidence.

“The paper ballot is a good solution, given all the drama of our elections,” said Marissa Evans of Dunwoody.

The voting system will likely face a more significant test when turnout increases, said Theresa Styles of McDonough, who voted at the Henry County elections office.

“That works now because there are few people here this morning, but what happens when there are lots of voters?” Styles asked. “If they can figure that out, then they can make it work.”

More than 14,200 people have already returned absentee ballots, as of Monday, according to the secretary of state’s office. Roughly 7,700 of them voted Republican, and 6,400 voted Democratic. About 100 cast a nonpartisan ballot.

Voters can check whether they’re registered, find out where to vote, apply for absentee ballots and view sample ballots online at the state’s My Voter Page at The GA SOS app provides the same information.

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