‘Willing to Take My Chances’: Mail-Skeptical Voters Flock to Early Vote in Georgia 1

ATLANTA—Cynthia Robinson had her mind made up.

The 72-year-old Clayton County resident was determined her vote be counted, so heading to the polls at 7:55 a.m. on the first day of early voting in Georgia was practically a no-brainer.

“I did not trust the absentee ballot in this particular election,” she told The Daily Beast from her precinct in Jonesboro two hours later. “I’ve always voted early and in person. I knew it was a COVID issue, but I was willing to take my chances.”

Early voting in Georgia on Monday was marred by technical glitches, with some voters at a massive new site at State Farm Arena in Atlanta leaving early in frustration. The scene was starkly familiar to what Fulton County residents contended with during Georgia’s first pandemic-era voting experience in June, even as the county worked to mitigate those issues, starting with the addition of State Farm as an early voting precinct. The arena holds more than 300 voting machines—by far the biggest precinct in Georgia—and allows for a measure of social distancing in a pandemic that has killed more than 7,000 Georgians.

But even with a major push in the state—where polls show Joe Biden competitive with President Trump—for voters to submit absentee ballots, many braved the long lines and COVID-19 to cast ballots in person.

Among the reasons bringing out thousands of masked voters: distrust of the United States Postal Service (USPS) and the absentee-ballot system after a series of alarming reports about sorting machines being shut down and mail delayed under a Trump agency head. Federal court orders have since moved to claw back penny-pinching measures that raised fears about the agency delivering the mail properly during this pandemic election season, though on-time rates are down from the summer.

In Atlanta’s Candler Park neighborhood, Neil Edwards said he voted by mail in June, but decided to cast his ballot during early voting out of anxiety about USPS.

“I just felt if I took proper precaution, it would be safe for someone my age without any previous health concerns,” Edwards, 39, told The Daily Beast.

Another voter, 46-year-old Raymont Burke, said he, too, voted by mail in the June primaries but grew increasingly concerned about whether his ballot would be received. So he stood in line for two hours at the Georgia International Convention Center to cast it in person.

When he arrived at 8 a.m., about 250 people were in line with him and only one of the 12 polling pads worked, he claimed.

“They need to start the process of running through election equipment the day before so any technological mishaps that come up, they can have ample enough time to troubleshoot them,” Burke said.

While voting went smoothly for Burke personally, he was concerned about older voters who are more vulnerable to COVID-19 waiting in line for long periods.

“They need to have more mobile machines,” Burke said. “They should be driving to people’s houses.”

For their part, Fulton County acknowledged the technical issues at State Farm Arena, which saw slimmer lines later in the day. The Georgia Secretary of State’s Office said technical issues were not widespread.

“Long lines are to be expected—voters need to be aware of all of their options, including three weeks of early voting, no excuse absentee, and in-person voting day of the election,” Georgia Secretary of State spokesperson Walter Jones said in an emailed statement.

For Arica Carbo, voting on Monday felt like deja vu.

An Old Fourth Ward resident, Carbo, 43, voted early during the June Georgia primaries, waiting in line for nearly an hour-and-a-half before someone told voters there was an issue. Her concern Monday, as voters headed to the polls despite fears of the pandemic and voter intimidation, was a technical one: a last minute software upgrade to Georgia’s voting system.

“Why would you do that before putting machines out for early voting?” she asked in an interview.

Another concern, specifically in Fulton County, was the lack of early voting locations.

In June, there were fewer in Fulton County after several locations decided at the last minute to close their doors out of concern for the spread of COVID-19. On Monday, there were 30 early voting precincts. Additionally, the county will have 255 polling places on Election Day, up from the previous 164 precincts they’d had this summer, the county announced last month.

Carbo said she planned on waiting as long as she needed to and did her best to convince another voter to stay.

“Nah, I’m not leaving,” the voter said. “We need to vote him [Donald Trump out.”

Shortly after that, the young man left the line, saying he didn’t have two hours to wait. To Carbo, it raised the specter of deliberately depressed turnout in a state with a long history of election intimidation—and recent precedent of long wait-times critics said were targeted at the Black community.

“It hurts because then their [Republicans’] mission was accomplished by getting people to leave,” Carbo said.