With new voting machines scheduled to arrive next month, Athens-Clarke County election officials are facing a vexing question we’ve all dealt with at some point: Where are they going to plug them all in?
In contrast to the old touch-screen machines, the new machines print out a paper ballot, which is then scanned. That means more equipment to plug in, and many voting sites will be taxed to deal with the power demands. According to Board of Elections staff, up to 18 of Athens’ 20 Election Day voting sites may not have enough plugs, enough circuits or both. “I’ve never seen anything like this situation before,” Director of Elections and Voter Registration Charlotte Sosebee told the ACC Board of Elections last week.
ACC can’t simply deploy fewer machines, because a new state law requires counties to use one machine per 250 voters. The state Board of Elections clarified that law last week, ruling that counties can use one machine per 250 voters who hadn’t already voted early or by absentee ballot, which will ease the burden somewhat.
It’s also too late to find new voting sites for the Mar. 24 presidential primary. State law requires 60 days’ notice to change voting locations. Besides, with the new machines, “I feel we need to avoid any additional confusion our voters might have,” Sosebee said.
Some board members wanted to switch to hand-filled paper ballots for the Mar. 24 election, but Sosebee and Assistant Manager Deborah Lonon said that would be illegal—counties are required to use the machines the state provides. However, if power proves to be an issue—fuses are blown or batteries run out—backup paper ballots will be on hand.
After severely underestimating turnout in the November 2018 gubernatorial race, Sosebee said she is preparing for a 65% turnout Mar. 24. It was 46% in March 2016, and both parties had primaries four years ago. (Donald Trump is the only name on the Republican ballot this time.) The November 2018 election was plagued by hours-long waits, but Sosebee noted that the ballot was much longer than it will be this March, with just one race. The choke point will be at check-in stations rather than waiting for a machine to open up, she said.
At its Feb. 4 meeting, the Board of Elections will discuss potential new voting sites, as well as “unmerging” four precincts that were combined with others several years ago. Sosebee is recommending new voting sites at East Athens Church, Barnett Shoals Elementary School, Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary School and Timothy Road Baptist Church for precincts 1B, 1C, 5A and 7A, respectively. If approved, those changes would take effect for the May 19 primaries.
Sosebee also said that the Board of Elections is looking for poll workers and is especially encouraging students to apply. High school and Athens Tech students 16 and up can make $10 an hour while being marked present at school for the day. Applications are online at accgov.com.