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COUNTDOWN 2008: Computer woes slow Georgians at polls

Mary Lou Pickel   The Atlanta Journal-Constitution  28 October 2008

Computer problems slowed voting to a crawl at some polling locations around metro Atlanta on Monday.

It was the first day that counties opened more early voting locations with the idea of easing the crush on Election Day.

At the Northeast/Spruill Oaks Regional Library in Alpharetta, some people waited eight hours to cast their ballots.

Wait times of four to six hours were not uncommon Monday. In some places, the lines clipped along at 45 minutes to three hours.

Elections officials in Fulton, Gwinnett, DeKalb and Cobb counties said the state’s computer system crashed at times and was very slow, bogging down the process.

The computer system allows poll workers to verify whether voters are properly registered and whether they have already voted.

High voter turnout was one of the reasons for the slowdown, said Matt Carrothers, a spokesman for Secretary of State Karen Handel’s office.

Handel said her office was aware of some “sluggishness” in the system and that technicians from the Georgia Technology Authority immediately went to work on it.

At no time did the system actually break down nor did the computer system go out, Handel said.

She said technicians believe they have fixed the problem and the rest of advance voting this week should go more smoothly, as should Election Day.

State elections board member Randy Evans said he expects the heavy turnout to exacerbate any new problems that arise.

“I’m really worried about Election Day,” he said. “There will be unexpected things that happen.”

At the busiest precincts, any computer glitch could translate into far longer wait times, he said.

Officials at the Spruill Oaks precinct in Alpharetta said the state’s computer system crashed twice, including once for a two-hour period.

“The state system had an outage. We did not have access,” said Tamika Major, a voter education specialist for Fulton County.

Despite the long waits, Major said most people have been good-natured. “People have been jovial and having a pleasant attitude. People understand that it’s something beyond our control.”

One Duluth couple waited eight hours to vote in Alpharetta.

Judy Daniel said she thought it would take about 10 minutes when she arrived Monday morning, but when she saw the line, she knew she was in for a long day.

Daniel, a dental hygienist, said she never considered going home. “It might be just as bad the next day or the next day after,” she said.

Carrothers said the office was working with elections officials in Fulton and Gwinnett counties to help them review their processes for checking voters in to the polls.

Vern Herr, 51, of Norcross waited six hours at the Singleton Road Activity Building in Norcross to cast his vote.

Why did he stick it out?

“I’m a cement-headed Pennsylvania Dutchman,” Herr said. “I’m too stubborn to give up.”

A salesman from Chick-fil-A sold sandwiches to voters stuck in line. “It kept morale up,” Herr said.

Gwinnett County reconfigured the line inside the Singleton Road poll late Monday and will add two more check-in machines for today, said Lynn Ledford, head of Gwinnett County’s election office.

“The main issue is the state system going down and being extremely slow when it comes back up,” Ledford said. “We have three check-in stations at each [poll] location, and normally that would be sufficient,” she said. “Hopefully by [today] the line will be much quicker.”

In DeKalb County, about 500 people were in line to vote at the elections office on Memorial Drive at 11:15 a.m. The parking lot looked like a Toys “R” Us lot on Christmas Eve —- hardly a spot to be found.

No one was complaining about spending nearly three hours in line, the average wait time.

“I would have stayed in line two years if I had to,” said Gina Dixon, a 45-year-old insurance broker who had gotten in line at 8:20 a.m. to vote for Barack Obama.

In downtown Decatur, a long line formed early.

“It’ll only get worse from here” predicted Melissa Griffin of Decatur.

Her husband, Scott Griffin, wore a watch cap.

“Ooohhhh,” he said when a chill wind blew through.

“Democracy is not free,” she said.

Large numbers of Cobb County voters waited for as long as three hours for their chance to vote Monday at the satellite polling stations.

The county added a total of about 100 voting machines in polling stations throughout the county, in addition to the 19 at the election board offices on Whitlock Avenue.

About 200 people waited to vote at The Gallery at Galleria Specialty Mall. It is a new polling location in a spacious room with 30 voting machines.

“People are just learning about it,” Cobb County spokesman Robert Quigley said.

The wait there was about 45 minutes.

Brian Winbush of Austell said a lot of people were getting discouraged by reports of long waits. “I was basically glad to get it over with,” he said.

Staff writers Nancy Badertscher, Mary MacDonald, Aaron Gould Sheinin, David Ibata, Kathy Jefcoats, Donna Lewis, Kent Miles, Michael Pearson, Mary Lou Pickel, Kristina Torres and Mike Lupo contributed to this article.

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