Senior citizens among those who have voting problems (GA)
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. November 04, 2008. By RHONDA COOK
About 20 senior citizens, many of them using wheelchairs or walkers, were turned away from the polling place at Wheat Street Towers when it opened and told to come back later, said the manager of the senior housing complex and one of the residents.
A sign was posted at the entrance to the polling place, inside the complex, that voters 75 and older could vote only between 9:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. even though voting hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
A spokesman for the Fulton County elections office was stunned when he learned of the problem.
“That is completely incorrect,” said spokesman Mark Henderson.
He said voters with disabilities and 75 and older are allowed to go to the front of the line between those hours but there is no limit on when they can vote.
“You cannot discriminate,” Henderson said.
Ulysses G. Mitchell, 73, said he and about 20 of his neighbors went downstairs to vote around 6:30 a.m.
“I’ve been going down there, doing the same thing for 10 years,” Mitchell said. “When they came and opened up, the maintenance man told us we couldn’t wait out in the hall. He told us ‘the ones that can walk go outside. So we ignore him. … He said the voting people said we would have to wait until 9:30 to vote. We weren’t entitled to any explanation.”
Mitchell, who uses a wheelchair, said some waited downstairs, but he went back to his room. He said he returned to vote around noon.
Diane Reynolds, manager of the towers, said she had told the maintenance supervisor that residents could not block the lobby and that they should wait in the rec room until time to vote.
“The signs said they could not start voting until 9:30,” Reynolds said. “My residents were waiting in the lobby as early as 6:30 this morning.”
Reynolds told the seniors to “please clear the lobby. I told them to wait in the rec room. But they could not clear the lobby.”
She said the seniors were allowed in at 9:15 a.m.
Still the Secretary of State’s office considered the day a success.
“This has been a very smooth and efficient election process,” said agency spokesman Matt Carrothers. “Average wait times across the state have been from no waiting time to under and hour.”
Problems were scattered.
In north Fulton County, some voters had to vote provisional ballots because the election database showed they had already voted. They had not.
“I don’t know if my vote will go for naught or not,” said Robert Fryer, who voted at a Methodist Church in Sandy Springs. “I feel perturbed about it. Win lose or draw, every vote counts.”
Fryer, who waited more than an hour to vote just after 8 a.m., said the person in front of him in line and the man behind him also were told the same thing, and they too voted provisional ballots. Fryer said the poll worker told him he was “the fourth or fifth person it had happened to this morning.”
Just before the polls closed, the non-partisan group Georgia Election Protection had received almost 1,900 calls to their hotlines; more than one third of them were complaints, while the rest were questions about voting.
Volunteer attorneys either called or were dispatched to check reports of trouble with equipment, voter identification, registration or voter intimidation.
Most problems — if they were technical — were resolved within an hour or two but, meanwhile, lines grew at those precincts.
Election Protection and other organizations monitoring voting said reports of problems were scattered around the state.
A fuse blew and machines had to be powered up one-by-one at Cleveland Avenue Elementary in South Fulton County, meaning none of the 15 voting machines were working for about 20 minutes. Voters were given paper ballots, according to Georgia Election Protection.
Voters had trouble accessing Gwinnett County’s Web site for a couple of hours after polls opened. Though county workers restored the interactive polling place locator fairly quickly, answers to frequently asked questions about absentee ballots, campaign finance reports and some non-election features remained offline, according to spokesman Joe Sorenson.
“Right now we’re focusing on having general information available and election information available,” Sorenson said.
On the other side of Atlanta in South Fulton County, all voting machines at the Bible Way Ministries precinct went down for about an hour and then the polling place ran out of printed ballots and paper provisional ballots. The voting machines were working again an hour later.
Carol Coney, a NAACP volunteer monitoring voting at Bible Way Ministries and at other polling places, said the problem was caused by a poll worker installing the wrong card to boot up the machines. Coney said most of the voters there at the time were senior citizens who had to vote on paper ballots, while they lasted.
Voters at four precincts in Rockdale County nearly had to make their choices by candlelight after the polling stations temporarily lost power. T he precincts had voting machines with batteries as backup power sources.
The outage occurred in and around downtown Conyers at 5:35 p.m., said Melvin Allen, vice president of engineering for Snapping Shoals Electric Membership Corp., which serves the area. The power was back in an hour, he said.
The outage affected the Honey Creek, Flat Shoals, St. Pius and Stanton precincts, said Jennifer Buse, the Rockdale County Board of Elections’ administrative clerk. No one had to wait to cast ballots, she said.
And in College Park, poll workers at Clifton Dale Community House were not giving provisional ballots to voters who did not have a government ID, according to Clare Schexnyder with Georgia Election Protection.
She said the group’s lawyers were trying to resolve the problem by contacting county and state election officials.
Carrothers disputed that claim.
“According to our monitor, provisional ballots have not been denied to any voter who required them,” Carrothers said. She said precinct did not run out of the ballots.
The law requires that voters be allowed to vote paper provisional ballots if they do not have photo IDs or if there are problems with their registration. Voters have 48 hours to resolve the problem for their votes to be counted.
Non-partisan Election Protection, the ACLU Voting Rights Project and the Governor’s Office for Consumer Affairs, which is taking election-related calls, said many of the queries involve poll location, registration and identification requirements.
The ACLU Voting Rights Project, which is headquartered in Atlanta, said its phones have been ringing constantly with calls from voters nationwide. Bill Cloud, spokesman for the Governor’s Office for Consumer Affairs, said wait time on the state’s phone lines was about 80 seconds.
There also have been problems reported involving absentee ballots.
Schexnyder said one caller said her paper absentee ballot was delivered only this morning via FedEx. Paper absentee ballots, which are ordinarily mailed back to elections offices, must be at county offices by 7 p.m. today in order to be counted.
Staff writer Mark Davis contributed to this story.