Early voting chance for election officials to do test run on new voting machines

Early voting for the June 9 primary in Georgia started Monday amid ongoing safety concerns stemming from the coronavirus pandemic coupled with close scrutiny over how the state’s new voting machines perform.

MOULTRIE — Election officials always urge voters to come out to the polls, but as early voting continues in a special Georgia House race, there is an added bonus for their participation.

As three southwest Georgia counties unroll a new voting system in House District 171, voters taking advantage of the early voting period in two of them also are using new voting equipment for the first time.

During the three weeks of early voting in Colquitt County, officials have an opportunity to address any issues that arise, Moultrie Probate Court Judge Wes Lewis, whose office oversees elections in the county, said. Eight precincts in the county will be open during the Jan. 28 special election.

County election supervisors were expecting more time to familiarize themselves with the new system ahead of the March 24 presidential preference primary. The death of state Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla, made a special election necessary in the district that includes all of Mitchell County and a portion of both Colquitt and Decatur counties.

Three candidates qualified for the nonpartisan election to fill Powell’s unexpired term — which ends Dec. 31, 2020 — during the three-day qualifying period this past December. They are Republicans Tommy Akridge and Joe Campbell and Democrat Jewell Howard.

Powell died suddenly on Nov. 25 during a Republican retreat in Young Harris.

“We really are encouraging people to come to the event station,” Lewis said. “It really will be a chance while we have the tech staff on site. It will give us the opportunity, if there are any issues, to deal with it.”

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger visited Moultrie on Monday, the first day of early voting in the election, to check on the new voting machines.

“I commend the secretary,” Lewis said. “With all the chatter and naysayers, I really give his staff credit. I do believe that once the voter, the citizen, uses this, they’re going to like it. The state really did a good job about training for the new system.”

A federal judge ruled last year that the voting machines then in use could not be used after the fall 2019 elections. Georgia was the first state to go to touchscreen machines in 2002.

“The one thing that has always been a criticism with that was that you didn’t get a receipt,” Lewis said. “This is a combination of the two.

“In the new system, you simply mark the ballot (on the screen). You’re printed a ballot with your choices. You get to review it.”

Voters then enter the printed form into a machine, he said.

Decatur County was one of six pilot counties to use the new machines in a prior election, but the equipment is new to Colquitt and Mitchell counties.

“All 159 counties were scheduled for March,” Lewis said. “These counties were really moved to the head of the line. We were moved ahead of the line in getting the machines, the tech support.”

Because of that, there will be a learning curve as election officials get used to the setup.

“There’s no doubt there’s going to be some kinks,” Lewis said.

Voters in Crisp, Dooly, Lee, Sumter, Tift, Worth and Turner counties will go to the polls on Feb. 4 for a special election for the District 13 Georgia Senate seat left vacant with the death of Sen. Greg Kirk, R-Americus, who died recently after battling bile duct cancer.

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