Opening, scanning of ballots begins over weekend

In-person advance voting tops 13,000 in Bartow County

Posted 12/31/69

As of Thursday afternoon, Bartow County Elections Supervisor Joseph Kirk indicated about 13,000 residents had participated in in-person advance voting so far — while another 8,000 had officially …

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Opening, scanning of ballots begins over weekend

In-person advance voting tops 13,000 in Bartow County

As of Thursday afternoon, Bartow County Elections Supervisor Joseph Kirk indicated about 13,000 residents had participated in in-person advance voting so far — while another 8,000 had officially cast mail-in ballots for the presidential election.

“Between the ballots that come back in through the mail and in-person, it’s a 28% turnout so far countywide,” Kirk said during a special-called meeting of the Bartow County Board of Elections and Voter Registration on Oct. 22. “I’m hoping we can get between 30%-40% of our voters to vote before Election Day and plan on having a 40% turnout on Election Day.”

Advance voting began Oct. 12 at the Bartow County Elections Office at 1300 Joe Frank Harris Parkway and the Cartersville Civic Center at 435 West Main St.

“I think the advance voting numbers are a little slower than we saw in 2016 right now, but not by much,” Kirk said. “The big question right now is all those folks who are voting before Election Day or through the mail, are those people who would’ve voted on Election Day who are choosing to do it early, or are those people that are voting in addition to the folks that are going to vote on Election Day?”

As of Thursday, Kirk said well over 13,000 ballots had been issued through the mail in Bartow.

“Over 1,000 of them have already been cancelled because of people wanting to vote in-person,” he said. “It’s hard to compare anything to this year, but the total ballots we received through the mail in 2016 was 1,500.”

Kirk noted that 2016’s presidential election drew a 76% turnout in Bartow. He said he anticipates this year’s final local turnout to be comparable.

“I’m encouraging everybody to go ahead and cast their ballot before Election Day, if they can,” he said. “We’ve got no line at the office right now, no line at the civic center — if anybody wants to get it out of the way, now’s the time to do it.”

While the first few days of advance voting were plagued by slowdowns, Kirk said much has changed over the last two weeks, with the process at both voting locations now going much smoother and faster.

“The first day, we had, I think, two or three no-calls, no-shows at that facility,” he said of the Cartersville Civic Center polling place. “In addition to the folks in the bottleneck of trying to get people checked in, we had horrendous problems with the State’s voter registration system.”

Two additional advance voting locations — the Allatoona Resource Center in Acworth and the Manning Mill Park gymnasium in Adairsville — will be open from Oct. 26-Oct. 30 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“It’s to help get more people through the line, help make it easier for folks in that part of the county to vote,” Kirk said. "We’re looking at great turnout at those locations, as well.”

Kirk also informed the board on how the elections office is handling the recent halving of the previous Cassville voting district into two new precincts. Earlier this month, the board voted unanimously to approve the creation of a Hamilton Crossing precinct using the senior center at 33 Beavers Drive and a smaller Cassville precinct using Cassville Baptist Church at 1663 Cassville Road as the respective polling places.

“We have sent out a precinct card to every single person who’s affected by that change,” he said. “We’ve also ordered signs to be put up in the community warning folks that the location of this area may have changed, here’s how to check.” 

Board member Dexter Benning said he still had concerns that the information about the polling place changes may not be getting out to voters.

“The last thing we want to have is somebody stand in line for 12 minutes, 14 minutes, whatever, get to the front of the line and find out that they need to go across the street and get ticked off,” he said. 

Kirk said there is a plan to station workers onsite at those polling places on Election Day to inform voters about the precinct changes. 

When it comes to COVID-19 sanitation protocols, Kirk said the local elections office has assigned one employee per every six ballot-marking devices at Bartow’s polling places. 

“My fear is that going into Election Day, despite our best efforts and hiring everybody we possibly can,” he said, “that there will be people calling out and we’re going to be stuck back with fewer employees and larger crowds.”

Kirk said that from now until Election Day, the elections office will be opening and scanning ballots.

“That’s to make sure we have results in a timely manner on election night,” he told the board. “We’ll start Saturday, we’ll see how the stack's building up … and then we can make decisions from there.”

He noted that representatives of the local Democratic Party did intend to be onsite during the process, which began over the weekend.

“They’re planning on having a person there to observe and duplicate the entire time we’re open and they’re going to work in shifts,” Kirk said. 

Board member Ken Cathcart asked if any of those Democratic Party representatives would actually have their hands on any ballots. 

“Anyone observing is simply observing,” Kirk responded. “We cannot go through the adjudication process without a representative from the Republican Party there. So if there’s not a representative there, we’ll have to pause and wait for someone to come.”

Kirk closed out the meeting by asking the board to render a decision on a registration issue.

“We have a prospective voter who was removed from the system years ago for inactivity in accordance with the law, and she and her family registered to vote earlier this year, or attempted to through the online voter registration system,” he said. “The State cannot verify that anything went wrong with their system, it sounds like she may have just pushed the wrong button.”

As Kirk noted, when registering to vote online individuals have the option of using their driver’s license identification number to complete the application. In that case, the form is submitted electronically and processed the next day.

However, registrants can also print out their completed forms and mail them to the elections office in hard copy, with the postmark date of the application serving as the official date of the registration.

“I have the evidence that she went through the process online but not to send it into us,” Kirk said. “But I cannot go back into the system to see the time on her’s at that point.”

Had the individual mailed the application to the elections office, Kirk said the documentation would’ve been received before the registration period expired. 

“She did not reach out to verify it or follow up on it until Oct. 7,” he said. “What we’re discussing here is a potential issue with a system where it went into the wrong button. We don’t want to set the precedent of saying that if you start the process before the deadline, we’ll take that form after the deadline … this is a one-off situation.”

Board member Janet Queen said she supported accepting the registration. 

“I agree, we don’t want to set a precedent, but at the same time if in fact all three of them submitted theirs right there together, I am going to say it was good faith in trying to get the information in,” she said. 

Ultimately, the board voted three-to-two to accept the registration, with Board Chair Neil Hopper casting the decisive vote. 

“She reached out, she thought she did it in good faith,” he said. “I think I would have to allow her that opportunity.”