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Georgia’s Presidential Primary Shines Spotlight On State’s New Voting Machines

Voting equipment was set up Feb. 14 in a metro Atlanta warehouse so that each touchscreen tablet, printer and scanner could be tested before being shipped to Georgia counties. The new machines will be put to use as early voting begins.
Voting equipment was set up Feb. 14 in a metro Atlanta warehouse so that each touchscreen tablet, printer and scanner could be tested before being shipped to Georgia counties. The new machines will be put to use as early voting begins.
Credit Jeff Martin / Associated Press
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Early voting for Georgia’s presidential primary begins across the state Monday.

It comes seven months after Georgia awarded a $100 million contract for a new voting system for the entire state. This election marks the first time they’ll be used en masse.

Fulton County’s top elections official says lines at polling places for early voting should move quickly despite most people using the state’s new voting machines for the first time.

“We will have all the poll workers ready to go. They are all trained,” said Fulton County Elections Director Rick Barron. “We will have some support staff out there on Monday morning.”

Barron says Fulton County’s short ballot will help voters as they adjust to the new technology.

“Unless you live in the city of Atlanta, you’ll have one contest on your ballot and that will be for president,” said Barron, who noted that Atlanta voters will also see a sales and use tax referendum.

The new machines feature an updated electronic touchscreen. Voters will print a copy of their ballot, review the text of their votes and feed it through a scanner. The scanner will record what’s contained in the QR code to complete the voting process. The ballot then drops into a locked box.

“We need to make sure that every voter scans their ballot and every voter is aware of scanning their ballot because if you don’t scan your ballot, your vote doesn’t count,” said Barron. “And if you leave your polling place with your ballot, it actually is a crime.”

Some voters have raised concerns about the size and brightness of the electronic touchscreens, worrying that it may compromise voter privacy.

Fulton County has purchased carriers with privacy screens in which to mount the electronic voting machine and printer. Barron says nearly all of the voting machines should be in these carriers by the second week of March with the remainder installed by the May primaries.

Meanwhile, Cobb County’s election director, Jeanine Eveler, says poll workers there have been trained as well and will be ready to assist voters should they run into any issues using the machines.

“The voter card is inserted a little bit at an angle, so people do seem to have a little more trouble with it the first time they use it,” said Eveler. “Because it [the voter card] doesn’t pop out like the old machines did, we anticipate that people may walk away without taking their voter card out.”

She also addressed the privacy concerns surrounding the large electronic voting machine screen.

“The screen is very large, so we don’t want to get too close and be able to see what somebody else is voting for,” she said of poll workers looking to help voters. Eveler says they’ve also taken steps to position the machines so that it will make it more difficult to see a voter’s choices.

Cobb is only scheduled to open two polling places for the first part of early voting. It is scheduled to open more polling places as Election Day, March 24, draws closer.

“Cobb is going to be ready,” Eveler said of the start of early voting. “We have to be ready.”

Voters can see their polling place, a sample ballot and early voting locations here.