Early voting progress report in Augusta: Long lines, little grumbling

Published: Oct. 12, 2020 at 6:33 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 13, 2020 at 7:16 AM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Day one of early voting wrapped up in the Peach State, and voters in Augusta were not shy about hitting the polls.

The Bell Auditorium is being used as a polling place for the first time this election season to allow plenty of space for social distancing.

Officials say more than 1,600 people voted there on Monday, with some lining up at 6 a.m., even though voting didn’t start until 8:30.

At one point, the line came out of the Bell, went down Seventh Street past the James Brown Arena and nearly to the railroad tracks, according to election officials.

The voting venue was set to close at 5 p.m. but stayed open until 5:45 p.m. to make sure everyone who was in line at 5 p.m. got a chance to vote.

Voters are given a single-use, disposable stylus to use, and all the equipment worked well on the first day, according to election officials.

Among those voting at the auditorium on Monday was Barbra Jones.

“I got out here about 6:30,” Jones said. “Mainly because of the COVID, and I wanted to go through before a whole lot of people came through.”

COVID-19 isn’t the only thing setting this election apart. Local election officials weren’t surprised by the long lines, as this election is expected to set records in more than one way.

“Right now, we have 135,000 registered voters. The last presidential election we had in 2016, we had 106,000,” Richmond County Elections Director Lynn Bailey said.

Out of the 35,000 mail-in ballots, the Board of Elections says it’s mailed out so far, they say it’s already received 11,000 back.

Some people who have the option to vote by mail are choosing to use drop boxes instead of mailing their ballots in. The drop box at the Augusta-Richmond County Municipal was emptied three times on Monday, according to election officials.

Candidates on both sides of the political aisle say early voting is more important this year than ever before, and poll workers say they agree.

“The last thing you want to have happen is to get caught up in a big long line on Election Day when you’re last-minute. If you run into any problems, not that I’m saying you will, but if you do, and occasionally it happens, you’re almost at the point of no return at that point,” Bailey said.

Because with more voters this time around, can come more issues with wait times whether voting early or on Nov. 3.

“You still have to social distance and we have to clean the machines — and you couple that with the high turnout and the fact that the ballot is extremely long and all things lead to voting is going to take longer,” Bailey said.

While Georgia saw major issues with voting in the primary election, Richmond County poll leaders say they don’t anticipate technical issues this time around.

“For the most part, our elections went well in both June and August. So, we have no reason to think — as far as getting the polls open on time — I just don’t see it being a problem,” Bailey said.

While the line at the Bell Auditorium wrapped around the block, Barbara Jones says it’s well worth the wait if it means having her voice heard.

“It’s very important that we vote,” she said.

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