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Almost 20% of registered Newton voters already cast ballots
Chairman says number of in-person voters increasing daily as wait times drop
Advance voting 2
Layaretta Lucas of the Newton County Elections Office helps entertain voters waiting in line behind the county administration building in Covington Oct. 12 on the first day of advance voting in Georgia. - photo by Tom Spigolon

COVINGTON, Ga. — One in five active registered Newton County voters already had cast ballots by today, Oct. 20, in the General Election when all in-person and absentee votes were included.

Meanwhile, the daily number of in-person voters was increasing at the county’s sole advance voting site in downtown Covington amid reduced wait times following changes in the local office’s check-in routine and the state’s faster response to information requests.

More than 6,100 Newton County voters had cast ballots in-person through 1:30 p.m. today at the Newton County Administration Building during the state’s 16-day advance voting period that began Oct. 12, said county elections board Chairman Phil Johnson.

The first day total of 890 on Oct. 12 dipped to 746 the following day. It then increased daily from there and reached 1,080 by Friday, Oct. 16, Johnson said.

The elections office also had received a total of 9,387 absentee ballots by today at 1:30 p.m.

As a result, 15,497 Newton County voters — 20% of the county’s 78,388 active voters — already had cast ballots by today, Johnson said.

Elections officials had seen a bottleneck with their original setup of only two check-in stations voters must use before casting ballots, Johnson said.

County officials at the check-in stations also must use the Secretary of State’s online voter information portal to certify a voter’s eligibility and it became overwhelmed from scenarios similar to Newton County statewide, Johnson said.

As a result, three -hour waits were not uncommon on the first few days, voters said.

Wait times then dropped considerably after Newton County officials increased to five check-in stations and the state added online capacity to its portal, Johnson said.

He said wait times of about one hour and 45 minutes were the longest seen recently. They occurred at the beginning of the day for in-person voting because people were already in line when the polls opened, Johnson said.

By 1 p.m., wait times typically dropped to about 90 minutes, he said.

“(Monday) by the end of the day our wait time was down to 55 minutes,” he said.

The county elections office also began processing absentee ballots Monday morning, Johnson said.

The action follows the state election board’s August ruling that county election workers can begin processing but not counting absentee ballots two weeks and a day before Election Day.

Johnson said his office is encouraging voters in western Newton County to drop completed absentee ballots in a dropbox located near the Newton County Sheriff’s Office Westside Precinct at 3612 Salem Road near Kroger.

He said only about 25 absentee ballots per day were dropped in the box in the first week.  

However, officials saw a marked increase in the number placed in the dropbox over the weekend “which indicates people are becoming aware that we have one there,” Johnson said.

A total of 18,715 absentee ballots have been mailed to Newton County residents through midday today. 

“We are continuing to get applications for absentee ballots and receiving absentee ballots,” he said. 

The office has sent an additional 157 electronic ballots to military personnel eligible to use the method of voting under the federal Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, also known as UOCAVA. A total of 39 have been returned, Johnson said.

Statewide, more than 1.7 million votes had been cast — either in-person or absentee — in Georgia through noon today, the Secretary of State’s office reported.

The in-person vote total was 62% above the total that had voted by the eighth day of advance voting before the 2016 election.