In Coastal Georgia, few lines, steady voting marks early election hours

Flattened campaign signs for all parties sit near the Salvation Army precinct on Bee Road. (Mary Landers/The Current GA)

A scanner named Bruno Jr.

Poll manager Jeannette Cooper stood in front of the seven voting machines at the Jewish Educational Alliance in Savannah mid-afternoon, keeping an eye on everything. 

“You can’t put that in your pocket! she told a middle-aged male voter as he folded his ballot printout into his khakis. “That’s your vote. You have to cast it.” As he smoothed out the wrinkles, grumbling about unclear instructions, Cooper walked him over to the scanner and he fed it in successfully. 

By about 2 p.m., 427 voters had cast their ballots at the JEA. Two Republicans poll watchers had been there for a few hours earlier in the day. “They did their count and I did mine, Cooper said. “It was their first time. They enjoyed it.”

Cooper made sure poll workers accommodated  “seasoned” voters, her preferred term for the elderly.  And she’s proud of her polling equipment, introducing her optical scanner by name. It’s Bruno, Jr., she said, because the previous one was Bruno. 

Early birds cast the votes in Camden

Early voting seems to be outpacing election day voting in Camden County. By 11 a.m. Tuesday 2,408 individuals voted in Camden County across all precincts. By contrast, 10,041 voters cast their ballot in person in advance of election day. Another 895 have returned absentee ballots. The Georgia Secretary of State’s office reports there were 34,726 active voters in Camden as of December 2021.

Officials: Faster check-ins help avoid lines

There were no lines at First African Baptist on Treat Street in Savannah, and the location averaged 20 voters an hour early in the day. (Jeffery Glover/The Current GA)

Noon: At Savannah precincts First African Baptist on Treat Street and New Generations Cathedral on Tennessee Avenue, officials said voting was steady since they opened. First African averaged about 20 voters an hour, while New Generations saw 40 each hour. There were no lines and poll workers credited faster check-in processes and software for the lack of lines.

Richmond Hill precinct welcomes new voters

11:30 a.m.: First Baptist Church on Ford Avenue in Richmond Hill used to be the smallest precinct in Bryan County and it’s now the second-largest, according to Sue Turner, the precinct head since 2016. They used to have four voting booths and now they have 12. At the start of lunch time, around 11:30 a.m., all of them were in use as a steady stream of voters arrived.

Young mothers with toddlers, moms and dads with infants all stood in line to check in to vote. One 19-year-old woman with long brown hair came to vote for the first time, an announcement that led to cheers from the county poll workers. 

The woman, who grew up in Richmond Hill and works at a local pizza place, spent four minutes examining and filling out her ballot. Later, when asked what motivated her to come vote this year, she said it was one issue: reproductive rights. “I don’t know what I want to do with my life, but that is the issue that will affect the rest of my life,” she said.

The precinct had 1,100 people cast ballots before election day. Turner says she expects the same number to come vote on Tuesday. 

Poll workers put in the hours

No matter which candidate wins or loses Tuesday, spare a thought for the thousands of county officials who are responsible for making sure the election is conducted freely and fairly.

Sue Turner, who runs the First Baptist Church precinct in Bryan County, says she and her team got to work at 6 a.m. Tuesday and expected to stay at their posts until at least 9 p.m. to count ballots. 

In Glynn County, Bertha Singleton who heads the Bethel Evangel Church polling station said she and her five poll workers brought enough food and snacks to last them a 13-hour day. “We can’t leave during the day and we can’t accept food from anyone else,” she said. 

In Richmond Hill, the First Baptist pastor provided a security guard for the center through the voting day. “We feel a lot better knowing he’s here,” Turner said. 

Despite rumors, no lines in Liberty

11 a.m.: Despite rumors of long lines at voting precincts in Hinesville, The Current found relaxed and quiet atmospheres at the middle and elementary schools hosting voting.

Lewis Frasier Middle School, named after a successful businessman, pastor, and first Black member of the local board of education, welcomed 92 voters in person by 11 a.m. 

Jason Ostrow, poll manager, said there were no reported issues, challenges, or poll watchers. Only one person was turned away because her name did not show up as registered, he said. Ostrow said there has been more turnout than the last election and a lot of first time voters, from what he can tell. 

He credited Ronda Walthour, chief registrar and elections supervisor, as the “best thing to happen to Liberty County voting.” Walthour helped with modernizing their polling places and setting up teams that work well together, he said. 

Poll workers at Lyman Hall Elementary School in Hinesville worked in a relaxed atmosphere in the late morning. The workers helped a disabled man vote, who was unable to read his options, according to an advocate from nonprofit Election Protection at the polling site.

Secretary of State’s office reports few problems

10 a.m. update: Gabriel Sterling, interim deputy secretary of state, spoke to reporters about the morning voting. Sterling said wait times were low with average check-in times at 48 seconds and average lines were just a few minutes. Longest lines reported have been 10-12 min in Stephens and Long counties,Sterling said. 

He cited two known problems that had been fixed early: A Cobb and Fulton data-mapping problem was corrected for two precincts with similar names. All people were able to vote. Also, there was a problem with a check-in device in Sandy Springs. Sterling said 34 investigators are deployed around the state to handle complaints that might come in. 

Sterling said 2,524,193 votes were cast early, representing 36% of all active voters in the state. Absentee ballots set a midterm election record with 234,347 votes. “No drama,” he said. “That’s what we are looking for today.” 

Sterling said he expected early tallies to be posted. He said the new state voting law clarified and allowed tabulation of early voting. Counters may state early but they must be sequestered through the day, and larger counties are that, Sterling said. But he cautioned that larger counties will be last in. He says he’s told “Be accurate, that’s the important thing.”

Pre-election voters make today faster for others

A handful of Liberty County residents, mainly Black and mostly older, voted at their precinct at a community building in Midway at around 9:40 a.m. 

Around 150 people cast their ballots at the Liberty County Community Complex by that time, according to Poll Manager Doris Barrett. 

Their precinct had the highest early vote count in the county, Barrett noted proudly. She said everything had been running smoothly with lines and voting machines.

One Liberty County Sheriff’s deputy sat at a table in the corner of the wide auditorium, looking at his phone. A poll watcher sat upright in one of the many vacant plastic chairs, watching the proceedings closely.

The Liberty County voters made time to vote amid their busy schedules. One woman with a knee injury that slowed her down significantly voted before going to physical therapy, she said.

David Lopez, 43, of Midway was headed back to work at a chemical plant in Riceboro after voting at the community center. He’s been voting since he was 18 years old. 

“If you want certain things to be a certain way, you gotta vote for the right people,” Lopez said. He doesn’t identify as either a Democrat or a Republican.

Time out to work for her candidate

9 a.m. Glynn County: Bernice Singleton was born in Lawrence County but lived her whole life in Brunswick and she works for the Glynn County School District. She voted early and took time off at work to canvass for Warnock outside the College of Coastal Georgia. 

“The one thing I’m praying for is that Herschel doesn’t get elected,” she said. “I know his family and I know he’s never done nothing for his family. Warnock though has gone (to Washington) and done for us. He knows that job and he knows who we are,” she said, speaking of Black voters in South Georgia.

Candidate puts body into campaign

David Sweat, who is running for Glynn County Commissioner in District 4 was also out Tuesday morning holding his own campaign signs as a human billboard for Glynn residents traveling on Altama Ave. on route to work. 

“I’m born and raised here and I’m ready to give back and serve my community,” Sweat said. A lifelong Republican, Sweat says he feels good about the candidates above him on the ballot. “We have a winning economic message and that’s what the people are looking for,” he said.

Signs down near Salvation Army

8 a.m. Savannah: More than 80 people had voted by 8 a.m. at the Bee Road Salvation Army polling place in Savannah. A poll worker said 25 people were waiting when they opened the doors this morning. That’s less than in the 2020 presidential election when more than 60 voters waited here for the polling place to open. Anticipating high turnout, this polling place has 11 voting machines today. Across the street from the polling place at the edge of Daffin Park, campaign yard signs were flattened to the ground where passing motorists couldn’t see them. This corner is usually considered far enough away from the entrance to the polling place to be legal for campaign signs and poster-waving supporters.

Early birds at Golden Isles

7:45am: At Golden Isles Career Academy in north Glynn County, near the Glynco Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

 A slow but steady stream of cars were pulling into the technical school to vote. 

Ashley Jones, a 26-year-old nurse, got up 20 minutes early so she could come vote before work. Health care was her top concern. Her top candidate motivating her: Warnock. “It was (the federal) government that got us through Covid,” not the state government, she said. “I think Warnock is the right man to help us with healthcare.”

No technical problems reported with voting machines.

Two volunteers from the county Democratic Party were the proscribed distance away from the polls holding signs for the incumbent senator and local candidate for county commission from district 4, David Sweat. Sweat is a Republican who grew up in Brunswick and has worked as a banker for more than four decades. 

6:45 a.m. On St Simon’s Island: This morning there were short lines of 10 people outside both the St. Williams Catholic School precinct and the First Baptist Church before the polls opened. At 6:45 a.m. at the First Baptist Church, three of the eight people here when polling started were wearing medical scrubs. A female dental hygienist, a nurse and a male anesthesiologist were coming to vote before heading to work. Everyone else were retirees. They planned to vote and then play golf. Weather report was sunny with a high of 76 degrees.

The Pooler Recreation Center saw few lines, steady voters early this morning. (Jeffery Glover/The Current GA)