COVINGTON, Ga. — Newton County election officials changed some procedures to help move voters along more quickly during the first five days of advance voting in Georgia this week.
An overwhelmed state database and the county elections board’s underestimate of the number wanting to use the advance voting option slowed the process and led to lines, said Phil Johnson, chairman of the county Board of Elections.
However, county officials increased the number of Newton County check-in stations and the Secretary of State’s office worked to increase the speed of its database response as the week went on, Johnson said.
Statewide, more than 540,000 had voted in-person on the first four days of the 16-day period this year — up 62% from the fourth day of the advance voting period in 2016, the Secretary of State’s office reported.
By the end of the day Thursday, a total of 3,366 Newton County residents had taken advantage of advance voting through the first four days.
A total of 890 voted on the first day, Monday, Oct. 12, but that number decreased to 746 on Tuesday. before rising to 817 on Wednesday and 913 on Thursday, officials said.
The elections office also reported that more than 18,000 absentee ballots had been mailed to Newton County voters — more than six times the total of 2,286 mailed throughout the 2016 election — likely because of concerns about safety from COVID-19.
RESPONSE TO DELAYS
Delays have come during the check-in process where election officials are required to use the Secretary of State's database to confirm a voter's registration and precinct, Johnson said.
A factor that contributed to long lines seen at the Newton County Administration Building was the large number of voters who requested absentee ballots but opted to vote in-person, he said.
Voters who receive an absentee ballot but decide to vote in person should bring the absentee ballot with them to speed up the election official’s cancellation of the ballot and move voters in and out of the polling place more quickly, he said.
If the voter does not bring the absentee ballot, the elections official must use the state database to determine if a ballot was requested and ask the voter to sign an affidavit, officials have said.
However, availability of machines did not seem to be a factor in slowing processing of voters during the week, Johnson said.
Among those waiting in line along Pace Street early in the week were Mia Johnson and daughter, Jocelyn, 10.
Johnson said the time spent standing in line was worth it to help “teach my daughter the importance of voting.”
“We’re here to do our civic duty,” she said. “She’s studying it in school as well, so it falls at a perfect time.”
James Lindsay said he chose to cast a ballot in person during the advance voting period rather than on Election Day on Nov. 3 “because I may have something to do that day.”
He added he wanted to make sure to vote in the General Election “because of the way things are going on in the country.”
“We need a good man in office that knows what he’s doing,” Lindsay said. “I want to make my vote count.”
Mike Franklin said he wanted to cast a ballot during the advance voting period because of its availability before Election Day Nov. 3.
He said he expected to wait in line longer at his assigned voting precinct on Nov. 3 than the two hours he spent there during the Primary Election in June. He also said he was “not comfortable with mail-in voting.”
Franklin, who is pastor of Solid Rock Baptist Church, said it was important to vote in this election because of the candidates’ stands on the issues.
“I believe we’re at a crossroads of freedom, democracy and socialism,” he said.
His wife, Cindy Franklin, agreed.
“I do not want to lose a lot of my freedoms to socialism,” she said.
She added she believed the surge in voter participation in recent elections in Georgia was “wonderful.”
“America needs to vote either way,” she said. “Everybody needs their voice heard.”
MORE DAYS, HOURS
Voters can cast ballots in-person at the elections office in the Newton County Administration Building Oct. 19 through Oct. 23, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and on Saturday, Oct. 24, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., county elections officials said.
The hours will expand to 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the final week of advance voting Oct. 26 through Oct. 30 at the elections office, located at 1113 Usher St. NW in downtown Covington.
A second early voting location is scheduled to be open in western Newton County Oct. 26 through Oct. 30 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Porter Memorial Library on Ga. Hwy. 212, across from Denny Dobbs Park.
For those planning to vote by absentee ballot, Johnson provided the following recommendations:
• Those who have not yet applied for an absentee ballot should do so now either through the Secretary of State’s website or by requesting one from the Newton County Board of Elections. The phone number is 770-784-2055.
• Those who already received an absentee ballot should complete it now and return it as soon as possible by mailing it to the Newton County Board of Elections.
Voters also can use a drop box at the Newton County Sheriff’s Office Westside Precinct at 3612 Salem Road; or at the north entrance to the Newton County Administration Building at 1113 Usher St.
Publisher and Editor Taylor Beck contributed to this story.