Columbia County voting snag catches Trump’s attention

Published: Jan. 5, 2021 at 8:29 AM EST
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EVANS, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Due to some technical problems that drew the attention of President Donald Trump, voters in Columbia County had to fill out paper ballots for a time Tuesday morning instead of using machines to mark their ballots during the start of voting in Georgia’s Senate runoffs.

Meanwhile, voting was going smoothly with no problems reported in neighboring Richmond County, according to Richmond County Elections Director Lynn Bailey. The Columbia County problems were among the few in Georgia, according to the state’s elections chief, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

State voting official Gabriel Sterling blamed the problems in Columbia County on a programming error for security keys and poll worker cards. After the problem was realized, newly programmed codes and key cards were being taken to locations via law enforcement. The problems across Columbia County were fixed by 10 a.m., according to Raffensperger’s office.

At the Stevens Creek Church voting site, the polling manager said a code gives staff members access to the systems to start them up for the day.

However, that code was wrong Tuesday morning.

When this happens, staff members report the problem to the elections office, which must re-initiate that code and get the systems back up, the polling manager said.

When the systems were down Tuesday, poll workers started issuing emergency paper ballots until their systems came back up.

What Trump said

The snag in a red county caught the eye of Trump, who tweeted:

Reports are coming out of the 12th Congressional District of Georgia that Dominion Machines are not working in certain Republican Strongholds for over an hour. Ballots are being left in lock boxes, hopefully they count them. Thank you Congressman @RickAllen

Sterling fired back on Twitter because Trump’s tweet came after the problem had been fixed:.

And this issue in Columbia Co. was resolved hours ago and our office informed the public about it in real time. The votes of everyone will be protected and counted. Sorry you received old intel Mr. President.

How it’s supposed to work

Under the voting system, which the state has used for less than a year, voters receive a key card to activate a voting machine, then use a touch screen on the machine to make their selections. The machine prints a paper ballot, which voters take to a scanning station and insert to record their votes.

Among the problems Sterling cited were issues with the key cards.

So voters filled out ballots by hand when the system wasn’t working.

Once the ballots were filled out, voters inserted them into a slot in a locked bin attached to the ballot scanner.

Hand-marked paper ballots at Stevens Creek Church went into a locked bin attached to this...
Hand-marked paper ballots at Stevens Creek Church went into a locked bin attached to this ballot scanner.(WRDW)

The poll manager at Stevens Creek scoffed at the idea that the ballots inserted in the locked bin were being discarded. He said poll staffers work very hard to make sure this doesn’t happen.

Which locations had problems?

We don’t have an extensive list of polling locations affected by the problem, but one newsroom staff member reported needing to hand-mark a paper ballot at West Acres Baptist Church. News 12 also received reports from viewers or staff members that paper ballots also were used at the Kiokee Baptist Church, Stevens Creek, Augusta Christian and River Island voting sites.

Election workers at Grove First Baptist Church said they ran out of key cards and the polling pads for employees weren’t working Tuesday morning.

When they ran out of keys, they gave out eight paper ballots.

Once they got more keys and fixed the polling pads, it was smooth sailing, they said.

The only reported issues occurred in Columbia County, Georgia, just outside of Augusta (parts of which are in the 12th District), and were resolved by 10 am. At no point did voting stop as voters continued casting ballots on emergency ballots, in accordance with the procedures set out by Georgia law.

In Columbia County, a small number of the keys that start up the paper-ballot scanners were programmed incorrectly. Additionally, a few poll worker cards were programmed incorrectly, meaning some poll workers were unable to start the touch screen voting machines used for paper-ballot voting. The correct keys and voter cards were delivered to the relevant precincts with a law enforcement escort. Issues were resolved by 10am.

We’ve reached out to Columbia County Elections Director Nancy Gay to learn more about the situation and find out whether any polling sites will be open late due to the snags. Workers at most sites visited by News 12 said using hand-marked ballots let them stay open despite the system problems, which means they won’t likely be required to stay open past 7 p.m.

From reports by News 12′s Will Rioux, Steve Byerly, Thomas Morgan and Gary Pikula