Georgia residents wait up to 8 hours to vote early
Posted: Wednesday, October 29, 2008 8:34 pm
By GREG BLUESTEIN
Associated Press Writer
ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia residents packed polling places as early voting started in earnest this week, braving lines as long as eight hours to cast ballots and forcing some voting sites to stay open deep into the night.
Polls have been open in Georgia since Sept. 22, but dozens more opened this week as part of a statewide strategy to ease the crunch on Election Day. The advance voting sites will be open every day through Friday.
The new system has been popular: About 200,000 voters cast their ballots on Monday alone. They’re among 1.2 million people, more than 20 percent of the state’s 5.6 million registered voters, who have voted early so far. The votes won’t be counted until Election Day.
In Florida, a crucial battleground state where early voting lines have also been long, Gov. Charlie Crist signed an executive order Tuesday keeping polling places open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., four hours longer than specified in state law. He cited record turnout in signing the order, which also requires polling places to be open a total of 12 hours this weekend instead of eight. Many counties in Tennessee have also extended their polling hours.
Nationwide, about a third of voters in more than 30 states are expected to cast their ballots early.
In Georgia, lines were down to under four hours in most places by Tuesday, but the long waits prompted the Democratic Party to urge Secretary of State Karen Handel to keep the polls open longer during the week and over the weekend.
“No one wants to see Georgia’s failed processes become a national news story,” wrote Jane Kidd, the party’s chair.
“But today, it is clear that we are in a crisis, and it is unclear even if there is enough time for the remaining four million-plus Georgia voters to cast their votes in an efficient and timely manner.”
Handel, a Republican who oversees Georgia elections, said state law doesn’t provide for weekend voting and prohibits voting on the Monday before Election Day. Besides, she said, county officials will be working through the weekend to prepare for the crush of voters.
“There’s a lot that happens Saturday, Sunday and Monday to prepare for Tuesday — they’ve got to get ready for the three million people that are coming.”
She said her office has dispatched 100 monitors around the state, and is sending teams to polling places with waits over two hours. The average wait time on Tuesday, she said, was around an hour.
“We had one day in four counties where there was an issue of longer-than-acceptable lines — that’s a pretty good performance,” she said. “I think all in all it’s gone pretty smoothly.”
The lines were longest in metro Atlanta, where Democrat Barack Obama’s candidacy was expected to increase black voter turnout. Republican John McCain is favored to win the state, although recent polls show he has a modest lead.
About 35 percent of the early voters were black, a disproportionate hunk of the state’s population. Figures from Oct. 1 show blacks make up 29 percent of Georgia’s electorate.
At a library north of Atlanta, wait times topped more than eight hours Monday night when the computer system crashed several times. Workers who didn’t leave until 11 p.m. returned Tuesday morning to find voters had begun lining up at 4 a.m.
Lines were also long at a senior center in Clayton County, a suburban county south of Atlanta where some voters who showed up Monday had to wait until after midnight to cast their ballots. The lengthy lines continued Tuesday, but they averaged three to four hours instead of six to eight.
Dianne Meeks waited about three and a half hours — and likely had another hour or two to go — but seemed unfazed.
“It’s worth it to wait because we have the freedom to vote and pick our officials, so that’s what we need to do,” said Meeks, a 58-year-old retired administrative assistant. “It’s a civic duty if you want to call it that, but it’s a privilege.”
Denise Burgess of Decatur, an Atlanta suburb, waited 90 minutes outside a senior center, warding off chilly temperatures in her husband’s parka.
“That was reasonable,” said the Decatur resident. “I got in line last Friday and it was a three hour wait, so this was very reasonable.”
Outside the Atlanta area, waits at many polling places were under 45 minutes.
Clare Morriss, a 50-year-old from Monroe, a rural area about 45 miles east of Atlanta, said she heard horror stories about long lines in Atlanta, but decided to give early voting a shot when she saw a short line outside her polling place.
“I was in and out in 30 minutes, no problems at all,” Morriss said. Published in The Messenger 10.29.08