October 19, 2020

Canceling Your Absentee Ballot to Vote in Person? Bring the Ballot to Speed the Process

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By Zachary Hansen | Atlanta Journal-Constitution | October 19, 2020

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In a Monday special meeting, DeKalb County officials discussed ways to shorten lines at early voting locations but two potential solutions involve absentee ballots.

Erica Hamilton, the director of DeKalb’s Department of Voter Registration and Elections, said line length during the first week of early voting was mostly due to two things: the state’s bandwidth issues and residents turning in absentee ballots to vote in-person instead.

The state’s voter check-in computer system struggled to handle the crush of early voterslast week, causing delays for election workers trying to check voters' registration information. The Secretary of State’s office said the bandwidth issue was resolved by the third day of early voting.

However, the county’s leaders worry delays caused by absentee ballot exchange could continue until early voting ends on Oct. 30. Hamilton said that it takes poll workers about 15 to 20 minutes to clear someone to vote if they received an absentee ballot but did not bring it to the polls. If they have their absentee ballot, it takes less than a minute on average, she said.

County Attorney Viviane Ernstes said DeKalb needs to ramp up its information campaign to remind residents to bring their absentee ballots to the polls if they now plan to vote in-person.

“Voters need to know that if you change your mind, bring your absentee ballots," she said. "And I think that if we get that message out, it will be a great service to the voters of DeKalb and will make the election day process go much quicker.”

The county’s board of elections will also consider a second potential solution suggested by the ACLU of Georgia that would place deputy registrars at every polling place to specifically handle absentee ballot exchanges.

With the additional poll worker in place, “The poll manager would not need to divert their attention from everything else they could be doing on election day,” Vasu Abhiraman, ACLU of Georgia staff members, said. “From what we’ve heard from poll managers, they’re spending 90% of their time making these calls (to county election officials) to cancel absentee ballots.”

Despite those delays, lines during the first week of early voting in DeKalb were significantly shorter than neighboring Cobb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties. Some areas of DeKalb reported hour-and-a-half lines during the first two days of early in-person voting on Oct. 12 and 13.

Some residents reported lines up to four or five hours in predominantly Black areas of south and east DeKalb, which set off alarm bells for three county commissioners. However, election officials said they found no evidence that lines were nearly that long. Hamilton added that her office is not counting the time voters wait before polls officially open.

“If I get there at 5 o’clock and the polls don’t open until 7, I’m already in a two-hour wait,” she said. “... I’ve heard concerns about four-hour wait lines, but that was never reported to me every time I called our poll officials."

The county’s board of elections will hold a virtual meeting at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday to further discuss election plans.

201012-Decatur- Denise and Bill Hasbune, of Stone Mountain, fill out a pre-registration form while waiting in line to vote Monday morning October 12, 2020 at the DeKalb County elections office in Decatur. The Hasbunes arrived before 6AM because they said they wanted to be sure to exercise their right to vote and didn’t want to take a chance of missing the opportunity. Several hundred people were in line when early voting started at 7AM. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution