Despite advance voting, bet on long lines Tuesday

Read this today in the AJC.

The crush of early voters casting ballots this week in Georgia must surely mean Election Day lines will be shorter, right? Wishful thinking, officials say.

More than 100,000 Georgians have cast ballots in the first three days of advance voting, which ends Friday. Waits as long as three to four hours have been reported in several counties, including Clayton, Cobb, Fulton and Gwinnett. DeKalb County is leading the state, recording more than 16,000 early votes.

Including absentee, overseas and other forms of early voting, more than 238,107 Georgians have already cast a ballot.

While that’s at least 238,107 fewer people who will line up at the polls on Tuesday, it’s a small percentage of the 3 million people forecast to vote in Georgia. Perhaps 90 percent of voters will be casting their ballots on Election Day.

“I think this is going to be a very high turnout election,” said Chris Riggall, a spokesman for Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox. “And even with a big participation in advance voting, you’re still going to have a lot more people physically at the polls than you had in July and March,” when the party primaries were conducted, drawing about 1.2 million and 800,000 voters respectively.

In other states, early voting has generally not increased the number of people who vote but, instead, has cut the number of voters who show up on Election Day.

“One of its biggest functions is to spread out voting over a prolonged period and make it a little bit less of a crunch time for everybody,” said Jonathan Black, a spokesman for Texas Secretary of State Geoffrey Connor.

Texas was one of the first states to institute early voting. This year, Texans began casting ballots Oct. 18. Officials predict about 40 percent of the votes in Texas will be cast before Election Day.

About half of Nevada’s votes are cast before Election Day, officials there said. “It takes some of the traffic load off of Election Day,” said Steve George, a spokesman for Nevada Secretary of State Dean Heller.

Early voting is relatively new to Georgia. This is the first presidential election in which it has been used. Over time, as voters learn about the option, more people will cast early ballots, officials predict.

Cox hopes to expand advance voting in subsequent elections to include more polling sites and weekend and evening hours.

“I think it’s going to take several [election] cycles,” Riggall said. “These are baby steps.”

Election officials in Georgia are not counting on early voting to ease the crowds Tuesday. Even as they process thousands of advance voters this week, they are furiously making preparations for Election Day.

“We are expecting long lines,” said Cobb County elections chief Sharon Wingfield. “It is a good sign because people are taking an interest in this election.”

Fulton County elections director Cynthia Welch said 2,182 voting machines and 2,635 poll workers should be enough to handle all of the county’s 447,522 registered voters who choose to turn out on Tuesday.

“We may be tired, but we will be ready,” Welch said.

Annie Bright, head of Clayton County elections, isn’t worried about how her staff will handle Election Day, but she does expect long lines at Clayton’s 53 precincts.

“Nobody is going to be turned away,” she said. “We’ve already got extra poll workers. I did that before [early voting] happened.” Bright said two-hour waits could be expected, “but I certainly hope not three and four hours long.”

If bottlenecks occur, they are most likely to happen in voter processing by poll workers, election officials say.

John Sullivan, registration chief for Fulton County, noted that most judicial races were decided in the July primaries. “In the past they were on the November ballot, so the ballot’s not as long as it traditionally has been,” he said.

But with a fiercely fought presidential race, a war in Iraq and concerns over the economy, it’s unlikely many voters will get off easy with a short wait, experts say.

At the North Fulton Service Center in Sandy Springs on Wednesday, voters stood in line for two to three hours.

“I’ll stay as long as it takes,” said Mike Dobbs, 54, an insurance executive from Alpharetta. “I should’ve gotten an absentee ballot, but I decided to brave it.

“It’s the most important election we’ve faced in years because of the issues of national security and the war on terror,” he said.

At the South Fulton Service Center, where it was estimated that more than 1,000 people voted Wednesday, the wait was up to two hours.

“It is for a good cause, so I’ll wait,” said Pamela Homer, 42, of East Point, who was last in line

Posted by loni on 10/28 at 09:26 AM in Blogging

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