By 2:30 p.m. Monday, Bartow County Elections Supervisor Joseph Kirk indicated 879 people had voted in-person on the first day of advance voting throughout the county.
With voting ongoing that day until 6 p.m. at both the local elections office and the Cartersville Civic Center, the final in-person voting tally easily surpassed 1,300.
“I went out earlier today with a megaphone and told them if they wanted to wait in that line they would be there between an hour and two hours,” Kirk said of the crowd outside the elections headquarters building. “And they didn’t want to go.”
With the heavy volume of early voters, however, came a considerable slowdown in the statewide voting system.
“These technical issues are outside the control of our local elections office, but are resulting in long wait times at our advance voting locations,” said Bartow County Clerk Kathy Gill on Tuesday. “The elections superintendent and his staff offer their sincere apologies for these delays and strongly encourage voters to consider visiting the advance voting locations at a later date.”
Kirk said he spoke with State elections officials Monday about the system slowdown.
“I’m not sure what the plan is, but I know they’re working on increasing the number of servers, probably increasing the amount of bandwidth they can use,” he said. “This happens every major election and they work something out.”
Bartow County Board of Elections and Voter Registration member Dexter Benning addressed the issue at a meeting held over Zoom on Monday afternoon.
“They knew about this, prior to this,” he said. “Why are they waiting for a fire to throw some water?”
Kirk said he believes the State tried to be proactive, but indicated he could not speak on their behalf as to the root causes of the system slowdowns.
Still, Kirk said he anticipates the volume of advance voters to steadily decrease in the weeks ahead.
“One thing we are encouraging folks to do is to go to the civic center rather than our office,” he said. “It’s a much larger facility with basically twice the equipment, twice the employees … it’s no surprise that they’re moving faster than we are.”
Complicating the situation at the elections headquarters building, he said, is the fact that Department of Driver Services (DDS) functions are continuing throughout the advance voting period.
“That’s why we opened the civic center for all three weeks,” he said. “To give people a chance to go somewhere that’s ready for that kind of crowd, because we have a limited number of parking spaces, and we can’t park anybody in the back parking lot now because of the DDS’ driving tests.”
On the subject of mail-in ballots, Kirk said about 12,500 have circulated throughout Bartow County so far.
“We have now accepted about 4,700 of them,” he said. “I encourage folks to go ahead and get that ballot back into us, if you’ve made up your mind, there’s no sense in waiting until he last minute to turn that in.”
Doing so is especially important, he said, in case any returned ballots have issues that need to be addressed before they can be officially counted.
He said that a special-called meeting is slated for next week regarding the placement of poll managers on Election Day throughout the county.
“As far as staffing and training goes, we are pretty much staffed up,” he said. “A lot of the training on the elections will be online and virtual, but we’re still doing hands-on classes for the equipment.”
As of August, Kirk said the local elections office had expended about 67% of its annual budget.
“That includes the facility expansion, which came in at $213,000,” he said. “I think we’re in good shape right now. Not having those other elections this year … we’re using that money right now to help increase the numbers at the polls and do some extra stuff to make sure we’re staying as safe as possible.”
The building expansion, he said, has also allowed for more advance voting space at the headquarters facility at 1300 Joe Frank Harris Parkway.
“And that’s allowed us to have more machines, more computers in there, to try to handle this kind of crowd better,” he said.
The elections office response to COVID-19, he said, has not changed since the initial safety measures were implemented ahead of the primary elections in June.
As protective measures against the coronavirus, he said employees are required to wear masks, noting that equipment is disinfected after every device is used by an individual voter.
“We’re still encouraging social distancing, we’re still encouraging people to wear masks,” Kirk said. “Of course, we can’t force anybody to do that, we can’t turn anybody away, even if they’re sick.”
The newly created Hamilton Crossing precinct still uses the senior center at 33 Beavers Drive as a polling place, while the “new” Cassville voting precinct will use Cassville Baptist Church, at 1663 Cassville Road, as an Election Day poll.
“We are well on our way with negotiations for the contract with the church, looking at the same contract we always use for these polling places,” Kirk said.
He noted that new precinct cards will be mailed out to inform the impacted voters of the polling place changes.
“We’re really pushing this message every time we talk about this election this time,” he said, “to let people know that you can check so they know where to go on Election Day.”
Plans are also in the works to have individuals onsite at the Beavers Drive polling place on Election Day to provide directions to any voters who may show up at the wrong location.
Kirk estimated that the precinct split puts roughly 6,000 people in the Hamilton Crossing precinct and about 4,000 in the Cassville precinct.
“It’s not quite an even split, but it’s close,” he said.
Advance voting is taking place at the local elections office and the Cartersville Civic Center, at 435 West Main St., Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. until Oct. 24.
Advance voting will be held from 8 a.m. to 6 a.m. at those two locations from Monday, Oct. 26 until Friday, Oct. 30. Advance voting will also take place at those times and dates at the Allatoona Resource Center at 6503 Glade Road in Acworth and the Manning Mill Park Gymnasium at 163 Manning Mill Road in Adairsville.