Politics

Metro Atlanta Counties Continue Urging Georgians To Vote Early

Dozens of absentee ballot drop boxes have been set up across metro Atlanta to collect ballots amid the pandemic.
Dozens of absentee ballot drop boxes have been set up across metro Atlanta to collect ballots amid the pandemic.
Credit Emil Moffatt / WABE

Updated Tuesday at 3:06 p.m.

This year’s election will be the first in which 26-year-old Nikki Quan plans to cast a ballot.

“I haven’t been very involved in prior elections, and, honestly, I feel like this election I probably wouldn’t be either if it wasn’t so imperative that we have a better leader in office,” Quan said.

She counts this summer’s social justice movement and the coronavirus as her top concerns. Quan was registering to vote in the parking lot of DeKalb County’s elections office last week. As to how she’ll actually cast that vote?

“Um, probably by mail, just with everything going on,” she said.

The 2020 general election is just weeks away and efforts to get people to vote are in overdrive.

The coronavirus pandemic, expected record turnout and new voting machines are all forcing many people in Georgia to plan on how they’ll vote.

Like Quan, safety was the reason Miguel Velez and his wife decided to cast absentee ballots. But he’s not mailing them in. Instead, he’s using one of DeKalb County’s 21 absentee ballot drop boxes.

“My only kind of hold back is I learned now that there’s no way of confirming in the moment that your ballot has been received,” said Velez. “So that was a major concern of mine. Making sure that my vote did get received cause you can do that and confirm that you voted when you vote in person. But still, I would consider this better.”

(The state has introduced tools to track a ballot’s status, but it sometimes takes a few days for ballots to be processed once they’re received.)

A steady stream of voters walk up or drive by to place their absentee ballot into the drop box at the elections office throughout the day.

Among them was Gayle Douglas. Part of her plan was to vote absentee to avoid the state’s new voting machines. She said she doesn’t trust them.

“I’ve been reading too much about the software, or the new software,” Douglas said. Asked if she thought it would be better to vote using a hand-marked paper ballot, Douglas responded, “Absolutely, I did.”

More than 1.5 million absentee ballots in Georgia have gone out for the November election.

County and state elections officials have taken steps to avoid problems that cropped in up June. That’s when thousands of voters never received their absentee ballots.

Early Voting

The uncertainly of waiting is too much for some voters who say they’ll vote in person. But they also plan to avoid the crush on Election Day by going to the polls early.

That’s a smart idea, says Wendy Fields, who leads the Democracy Initiative, a national voting rights group. She says Election Day has given way to Election Season.

“Don’t take anything for granted and don’t give away your right to vote,” Fields said. “You have the tools to cast a successful ballot. The best way to use those tools: know the rules, make a plan and vote early.”

Fulton County saw the longest lines anywhere in Georgia during the June primary. So the county has bolstered its stable of early voting sites. And it’s included mega-sites like State Farm Arena, which has been outfitted with some 300 voting machines.

Fulton County chair Robb Pitts said this partnership with the Atlanta Hawks announced over the summer has pushed other Atlanta-area landmarks to become early voting sites.

Hundreds of voting machines have been set up at State Farm Arena for early voting. (Emil Moffatt/WABE)

“In College Park, the Georgia International Convention Center heard about what we’re doing here [and said] ‘hey, why can’t we become a part of this’? The Fox Theater, the High Museum, the Buckhead Theater, just to name a few,” Pitts said.

By law, those who plan to vote early have a choice of where and when they vote before Oct. 30, as long as it’s a site within their county.

There are 11 early voting sites in Cobb; nine in Gwinnett and a dozen in DeKalb County. That’s where Brittany Ruff plans to cast her ballot.

“Definitely going to vote in person,” Ruff said. “I just want to make sure everything gets where it needs to go.”

With social distancing as a priority and the long lines from the June primary still etched in the collective memory, counties in metro Atlanta are spending both time and money urging voters to have a plan ahead and cast their ballot before Nov. 3.

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