By Laura Camper / email@example.com
On Tuesday, a steady stream of voters made their way to the polling place at Newnan City Hall to cast their ballot in the runoff election between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker.
But the lines that had plagued early voters mostly were gone as all the polling places opened for Runoff Election Day — except at the Newnan Centre and Madras precincts.
One voter said it was so hard to find a parking place at the Newnan Centre that he waited in “gridlock” for at least 15 minutes to find a parking space and then “barely made it in line by the 7 p.m. cutoff.”
“I've voted at this precinct for many years, and the line here is exponentially longer than any I have ever seen,” Travis Strickland said in an email to The Newnan Times-Herald.
Carol Moore, director of the Newnan Centre, said that in addition to the runoff, the center hosted the Kiwanis Club, and the Donald W. Nixon Performing Arts Centre next door also had an event on Tuesday.
“Parking was at a premium,” Moore said.
Additionally, the polling place was down to 7 poll pads (where people register), eight voting machines and two scanners (where the ballots are counted). For the Nov. 8 election, the Newnan Centre had 10 poll pads, 60 voting machines and three scanners, said Ashley Gay, Coweta County Elections director. She said it was a similar situation at the Madras precinct where there were four poll pads, eight voting machines and two scanners. For the Nov. 8 election there were eight poll pads, 30 voting machines and 2 scanners.
Gay said by email that the county just ran out of time when programming the voting equipment for the runoff election.
“Prior to every election, the election data is created and then loaded to the voting equipment and each piece of equipment that is sent to a precinct is tested,” Gay wrote. “For the Nov. 8 election, our office had over two weeks to test all of our equipment, which allowed us to send out more machines. For the Dec. 6 runoff, our office had a very short time frame to test equipment, therefore, our office was not able to load, test and send as many machines as we sent for the November election.”
She said that although the voting ended for the Nov. 8 election that day, the election was not over. The results had to be certified locally and then the state audited the results. That didn’t happen until Nov. 15 and Nov. 17 respectively. Only then can the Secretary of State’s office build the new ballot and database for the runoff election. Then the information can be loaded into the individual voting machines and tested. But there is one more hurdle before testing – testing must be advertised.
The county was finally able to start testing its 400 voting machines, poll pads and scanners on Nov. 21, just 15 days – including the Thanksgiving holiday and two weekends – before the Dec. 6 election, Gay said.
“It’s a long process to test,” she said.
In the past, when there were nine weeks between the election and a runoff, the staff had plenty of time to get it all done. But in 2021, state legislators passed changes to the election law including changing the number of days between the general election and a runoff to 28 days. It created a problem for the Coweta Elections office.
The absentee ballots were mailed on Nov. 21, the same day testing began, she said.
“Staff worked over the weekend to get (absentee ballots) out,” she said.
Additionally, she wrote that many trained poll workers were not available to work during the runoff election because they were out of town or for some other reason. That along with the large turnout created waits at the largest polling places in the county, Gay said.
Both the Madras and Newnan Centre precincts, the county’s two largest precincts, had lines of voters on Tuesday. The waits varied throughout the day, but at closing, the wait was about 45 minutes to an hour at Madras and an hour or more at the Newnan Centre, she said.