Long lines, complaints lead to second voting location
The Pickens Elections Board voted to open a second early voting location at the Pickens Recreation Center.
After two full weeks of long lines for early voting - with some residents waiting over four hours to cast a ballot - there have been concerns about the remainder of early voting and voting on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3. But Pickens Elections Supervisor Julianne Roberts believes Election Day lines will be manageable.
“I really don’t think they are going to be as long as people think they will be,” she said. “We’ve got 12 polling locations across the county.”
Roberts did not know the total number of voting machines that will be used Election Day, but the site with the least number of machines is four, and the site with the most number of machines is seven, she said. The number of machines at each polling place is determined by the number of registered voters in that district, but also limited by the size of the facility.
Those 12 locations are considerably more than the single early-voting location at the elections office that was used for two weeks. The second location at the Pickens Recreation Department was added on Monday, Oct. 26 following an emergency called meeting of the Pickens County Board of Elections the previous Friday.
In a public statement on Friday, Oct. 23, the board said, “This decision was made to aid voters’ additional access during this historical election cycle.”
Many members of the public complained about the location on Pioneer Road as being inadequate to handle an election of this magnitude, and chided the board for not anticipating the big turnout and securing a larger location for early voting. The steep incline at the elections office, which makes it difficult for some people to stand in line long periods of time, as well as lack of access to restrooms, cramped voter space, and the small number of voting machines at that location are among chief issues expressed. Some voters went so far as to lodge complaints with the Secretary of State’s office.
According to House Rep. Rick Jasperse and Pickens Commission Chair Rob Jones, they both independently approached the board this summer and offered to help secure a larger location either at Chattahoochee Technical College or the Pickens Recreation Department.
“That was during the primary I offered the recreation department,” Jones said, “and at that time they told me they didn’t think they’d need it.”
Jasperse said he never got a clear answer about why the board did not want to pursue the tech school, which is the location he offered to help arrange.
But elections board member Wil Bell said to his knowledge neither the house representative or commission chair offered to help move the early voting location, and added that neither had ever attended one of their meetings.
Jaspere said he spoke with them over the phone during the summer regarding the matter. “Why would we need to attend their meeting?” he said.
Jones clarified that the commissioners’ office does not control or appoint the elections board, which is made up of two members of the GOP and two members of the Democratic Party who then appoint a fifth member as chair.
Bell did say at one point their five-person board independently looked into the Chattahoochee Tech campus to relocate the main early voting location, but by the time they heard back from the school the window to make that location official had passed. According to Bell, to entirely relocate the main early voting place from Pioneer Road – and not just add a second location – it must be finalized with the state 60 days before the election.
“That timeframe had expired,” he said.
Bell added that the elections board also researched voting numbers from the 2016 election - when Pickens saw an 83 percent voter turnout - and they determined early voting would run smoothly as it did then.
“At that time, historically it was the largest election and the county handled it just fine,” Bell said.
Jasperse said issues with the single location became apparent immediately after early voting began.
“It was looking difficult and that’s why I got involved,” Jasperse said. “I’m not sure where the failure truly was, but somehow communication between what was needed and wanted broke down.”
The elections supervisor said the first day both sites were open, October 26, lines were long at each location - the elections office voted 392 people, and another 367 voted at the recreation center.
“So far, we haven’t voted more than 400 people at one location in one day,” Roberts said.
The second day both locations were open, the line at the Pioneer office was the shortest it had been during early voting.
As of press time Tuesday, over 4,000 people had cast their votes in person, and according to Roberts’ estimates between 2,400 and 2,800 people have either mailed or dropped off an absentee ballot. That’s compared to the 4,700 absentee ballots that were issued for the June primary election when the state sent a ballot request form to all voters. For the upcoming November election, voters had to make the request themselves.
Roberts reminded people the number of absentee ballots may increase as voters are able to drop off their ballot until 7 p.m. on Election Day.
When asked if she thought results would be made available the night of the election, the supervisor said she doubts it - but noted that members of the board of elections began opening absentee ballots on Tuesday, Oct 27, which will help mitigate delays election night. The state election board voted in August to allow election officials to open – but not count - those ballots up to 15 days before the election. Bell said the board voted to approve opening ballots early as a way to ease Election Day issues.
Roberts noted that finalizing election night results “also depends on the condition of the absentee ballots. Sometimes we get damaged ballots, or ballots with food on them, all kinds of issues and it takes longer if we have to make duplicates” before they can be scanned.
Roberts anticipated all absentee ballots they had received up to that point, Tuesday, Oct. 27, would be opened by the end of that day. Those ballots will not be scanned until Election Day. According to Bell, there are eight poll workers, four board members, and one public observer opening the ballots. The process is being performed in a secure location at the Pickens County Courthouse.
Early voting continues 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Friday, Oct. 30 at the Pickens Elections Office on 83 Pioneer Road and at the Pickens Recreation Center on Camp Road. Voters will go to their regular polling places on Tuesday, Nov. 3 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Voters 75 and older and disabled voters can go to the front of the voter line.