Facing Long Lines, Gwinnett Voters Find Some Relief At County Fairgrounds

The Gwinnett County Fairgrounds is being used as an early voting site this year, with two dozen voting machines in operation.

Emil Moffatt/WABE

Justin Laryea was at the back of a long line at Dacula Park when he realized he didn’t have his I.D. card.

So he went home to retrieve his wallet and then decided to see if the line was any shorter at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds.

It was.

“Luckily here, it was pretty smooth,” said Laryea. “Once you get in there, they point you in the right direction, and I got done in probably like 20 minutes.”

There’s more space for voting at the fairgrounds, where a dozen check-in stations and 24 ballot marking devices have been set up. The county has erected signage along roadways, pointing voters to the early voting site.

Poll workers are also trying to speed up the check-in process there, handing out clipboards to people in line and calling out instructions to help voters know what information they need to provide.

Hours Long Wait Times

Gwinnett County was the site of some of the longest lines in the state on Oct. 12, the first day of early voting in Georgia. Some voters reported waiting all day to cast a ballot.

Several factors may have contributed to these lines.

While the nine early voting locations are the most ever offered by the county, they still have to serve some 561,000 registered voters.

Gwinnett also has the lowest return rate for absentee ballots of any county in Metro Atlanta. County residents have requested some 159,000 absentee ballots, but only 20% of them have been returned.

Campaign sign outside of the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds, which is being used as an early voting location. (Emil Moffatt/WABE)

This is likely the result of slow delivery of ballots. The county is not using Runbeck, the Arizona vendor used by the majority of other counties in Georgia to mail absentee ballots. Gwinnett had to enlist another vendor because of a larger envelope needed to fit both English and Spanish instructions as the county is required to do by federal law. The envelopes also had to have a more readable font size due to a settlement over a lawsuit this year.

And while the long lines were largely blamed on the record turnout, behind the scenes, the state was working to speed up the system used to check in voters and manage voter registration and absentee ballot applications. Increased bandwidth helped speed up the system, and by Thursday, the check-in process was going much faster statewide.

Voters Continue Flocking To Polls

Many county elections officials thought the initial surge of voters seen on Monday would drop off as the first week went by. But just the opposite happened. While 128,000 voted the first day statewide, 161,000 voted early on Friday.

Through Friday, a total of 707,000 Georgians have voted in-person for the November general election, including 48,303 in Gwinnett County.

A half-hour before the main Gwinnett County elections office polling site opened at 8 a.m. Friday, a line wrapped around the sidewalk of the shopping center where it’s located.

It was too long of a wait for Kenya McDonald, who decided she’d come to the Fairgrounds where it took her 45 minutes to vote.

Rennell Smith, a nursing student, was voting for the first time in this election. She also decided to come to the Fairgrounds, where she found poll workers to be helpful.

“I was not trying to wait, so I’m glad we found somewhere shorter,” said Smith.