New technology speeds up Lee County's early voting

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

LEESBURG, Ga. -- Even though the absentee ballot/early voting period in Georgia has been expanded to a mind-boggling 45 days out from an election, voters taking advantage of the opportunity still want the process to go as quickly and as smoothly as possible.

Officials in the Lee County Elections office have gone a step beyond most of their contemporaries in the state by utilizing new technology designed to speed up what can be a tedious part of the process.

"When voters fill out an application for an absentee ballot, they essentially have to write the required information twice," Lee Elections Supervisor Veronica Johnson said. "One of the questions we always get is 'Why do I have to write the same thing twice?' It can be especially aggravating for people with arthritis, plus we sometimes have a hard time reading people's handwriting."

So Johnson, after viewing an exhibit at a Voter Registrar Association conference in May, used money from her Fiscal Year 2010 budget to purchase equipment and software that eliminates the writing part of filling out the ballot application.

"It's pretty simple: We scan voters' ID cards and get an immediate printout of the information required on the ballot application," Johnson said. "Also, any discrepencies that show up on the ID card and the information we have in our system is clearly marked in red.

"It saves time for the voters, and it helps us with our record-keeping. Paperwork is a crucial part of the process."

As required by state law, three elections workers -- Nan Jones, Donna Hetland and Casey Smith -- stationed at the early/absentee voting site in the T. Page Tharp Governmental Building have been using the new equipment to check in voters. They say incorporating the new equipment into the process has gone smoothly.

"It's pretty simple to operate," Smith said. "Once it was set up, we played around with it for a couple of hours to make sure we were doing things right.

"So far, there have been no problems at all."

Added Hetland: "The new equipment has cut down on one of the main gripes people had about the process, about having to fill out the paperwork."

Johnson said versions of the new equipment, created in-house, are being utilized in Fulton, Chatham and Greene counties. The version purchased for Lee County was developed by Greene County officials.

"It was really inexpensive," Johnson said. "We paid $2,199 for the equipment and software, and I think it will end up saving us money this year. We have five elections scheduled this year: the primaries and a possible runoff, a special (Leesburg City Council) election, and the general election with a possible runoff.

"Not only does it make our work faster and more efficient, (the new equipment) has the potential to save us payroll costs. When there are long lines of voters waiting, we've brought in someone else just to help write in the information on the ballot applications. We won't need that person now."

The new equipment, Johnson said, is one more tool she and her staff use to follow state elections mandates.

"Our goal in Lee County is to never appear before the state elections board for a voter irregularity hearing," she said. "We always want to operate in complete transparency.

"Voters tend to think that they know the election laws, but every year the Legislature tweaks them. We have posters that explain Georgia voters' rights, but few people take the time to read them. Voters are, however, starting to use information on our website now."

The Lee County site (www.lee.ga.us) includes a link to the secretary of state's website that allows voters to link to the sites of qualified candidates running for office or to an individual sample ballot.

"The state has all these requirements that each county is responsible for," Jones said, "but Lee County is fortunate that (Johnson) stays on top of them. She knows the law and makes it clear what we can and can't do."

Early/absentee voting for the July 20 primaries will continue through July 16. All such voting in Lee County, regardless of district, is being conducted at the Tharp Governmental Building.