Todd R. Weiss

Georgia early voting update

By Todd R. Weiss
November 03, 2008 5:07 PM EST

Last week, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper published a story that reported on computer problems that allegedly caused long delays for voters trying to vote early at polling places across the state.  

The story said that "wait times of four to six hours were not uncommon" last Monday, with some voters even waiting up to eight hours to cast ballots in Alpharetta, outside of Atlanta.

According to the report, the problems were caused by the state's computer system that allows pollworkers to verify voter's registrations and to check to be sure they have not already voted. The report said the system "crashed at times and was very slow, bogging down the process."

Matt Carrothers, a spokesman for Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, today disputed some of the details of that account, however.

Instead, Handel said, the statewide voter registration database "never crashed or anything like that. There were some instances of sluggishness and slow connections or intermittent connections in some locations, but they were isolated."

Some of the disconnections occurred when there was long inactivity between individual voters were checked in to the sytem, he said." That issue was only at one voting location, and was not statewide," he said.

The delays experienced by some voters during early voting, he said, were "not systemic or statewide problems. There were issues in some of the voting locations, but they were resolved. They were the results of the check-in operation moving slowly."

"Every issue that occurred regarding the technology side was addressed immediately ... and quickly resolved," he said. "The vast majority of Georgia election offices [across the state] reported no problems at all."

Georgia has 159 counties, which had a total of 235 election sites open during last week of early voting last week, Carrothers said.

For Tuesday's general election, all of the state's approximately  3,000 voting precincts will be open.

For early voting, the state uses a different system than is used for regular voting on Election Day, he said.

Early voting systems use a statewide voter registration database to access voter records, since not all local polling places -- where those records are typically found -- are open.

On Election Day, when all the polling places are open, an express poll unit is used that is not connected to the statewide system. Those records are accessed locally in the polling place, without the delays of having to be accessed across a larger system, such as occurs during early voting.

"They check in voters and verify them," Carrothers said.