High turnout but few problems as Polk begins early voting

Residents wait in line at the entrance to the Polk County Annex Building in Cedartown for early voting on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020.

Polk County officially entered the heart of the voting season last week as more than 4,500 people cast ballots in person for the first week of early voting for the Nov. 3 general election.

And while some minor technical issues threatened to force voters to stand in line for hours, county election officials said training and preparation have helped cut down on any long waits.

Brande Coggins, Polk County Elections Coordinator, said they have two methods by which to check in voters when they arrive at a polling place and have two full check-in stations, each with their own designated equipment, at each location.

The first method is called EasyVote and provides a voter check-in form that comes pre-printed with the voter’s information so all they have to do is make sure the information is correct and sign it.

Coggins said if they encounter any interruptions with that application, poll workers are trained to go through the Georgia Secretary of State’s ElectioNet, or E-Net, system, which confirms a person is registered to vote but requires them to complete a form with their personal information.

Both methods are approved and monitored by the Secretary of State’s office, with EasyVote allowing a faster check-in process.

“We did have a moment this morning when both systems were down, but they were back up pretty quickly,” Coggins said last Tuesday. “We’ve been pretty lucky.”

A total of 4,553 people cast in-person ballots between the Polk County Annex Building in Cedartown and the Nathan Dean Center in Rockmart. Another 1,720 absentee ballots have been received and approved by the elections office to bring the total number of ballots cast by Polk County voters to 6,273.

Based on the number of registered voters last supplied by the Secretary of State’s office, more than 27% of Polk County voters have already cast their ballots. Coggins has said they had more than 25,000 registered prior to the Oct. 5 deadline to vote in the general election. That would still come out to around 25% turnout so far.

The Rockmart location has 20 voting machines, while there are 12 in the elections office area of the Polk County Annex Building due to space.

“It was a big concern for us going into this to still make sure we promoted physical distancing,” Coggins said. “And there have been times when they have been completely full. It’s more of an ebb and flow at Rockmart with the number of machines they have there.”

County officials have encouraged people to vote early or by absentee ballot this year to cut down on the projected record turnout and to help with physical distancing related to the spread of COVID-19.

Still, except for first thing in the morning, wait times have averaged 5-10 minutes, with occasional moments where voters are spending 10-15 minutes at the most from start to finish.

Coggins, who heads up election training for Polk County, said they took an aggressive approach with training poll workers and poll managers, starting with getting adjusted to the new voting machines and process.

“Since February and March, our managers have had multiple training sessions, and each new poll worker receives the same kind of training managers do, with the exception of poll location setup and technical training,” Coggins said.

With most of Polk County’s poll workers returning for this election, officials were able to provide specific training on each precinct to go over equipment setup and troubleshooting, and line management.

While new poll workers have had two hours of training on the basics of checking voters in and supporting poll managers, others have received more training to dial in on certain issues.

“Training has been a very long process. We had to adapt and change some things as we went,” Coggins said.

Early voting continues through Oct. 30, with the two polling sites open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, except for Oct. 27 and 29, when they are scheduled to be open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Early voting will also be available in Polk County on Saturday, Oct. 24, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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