'Setting records every hour': Election officials expect high turnout to continue

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ATLANTA — More than 128,000 Georgia voters cast ballots on the first day of early voting.

Both the presidential and U.S. Senate races in Georgia are close in polling, causing candidates to remind voters every ballot counts. Based on the number of absentee ballots and the first days of early in-person voting, Georgians are listening.

“To sum it up, Georgia voters are excited and setting records every hour,” Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said during a press conference on Wednesday. "And this is all during the pandemic, lest we forget."

The state hit record turnout even with 49 counties closed for the Columbus Day holiday on Monday, beating the previous record of 90,000 voters casting ballots on the first day of early voting in 2016.

By Wednesday, 742,893 voters — nearly 10% of the state's total of 7.6 million registered voters — had already cast their ballots, according to Raffensperger. On the second day of early voting, 111,000 voters went to the polls.

But early voting was marked by some long lines, similar to what was seen during the June 9 primary. A combination of extra COVID-19 cleaning precautions in between machine uses, spaced-out lines and technology issues kept some voters in line for hours, largely in metro areas.

"Yes, we have seen some lines in some counties,” Raffensperger said. "Those with lines are adding equipment to deal with those issues. The overwhelming turnout — again nearly a quarter million voters in two days — has slowed down processing for some voters. We're working with those counties and our vendor to address those holdups. But we can all agree, we are in a situation of having good issues.”

He also noted Wednesday that a bandwidth issue slowed polling places seeing a high number of voters in a short period of time. He compared the technology bottleneck to Atlanta commuters traveling on Interstate 85 during rush hour.

Raffensperger said his office hoped to have solutions to optimize bandwidth in troubled locations by the end of the week and has assigned additional equipment to counties needing it.

Election officials expect turnout to continue to hit record highs during the final days of early voting and on Election Day.

Raffensperger pleaded with the 1.6 million Georgians who have requested absentee ballots to cast them instead of showing up in person. He reminded voters that COVID-19 is still a risk at crowded polling sites.

"We would really be grateful if all 1.6 million of those ballots actually came in and people then didn’t show to vote in person,” he said. “Because that also takes the pressure off the polling location. ... That really would help the counties all the way around."

Riley Bunch covers the Georgia Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites.

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