LEESBURG — For voters having their first encounter this week with new voting equipment, the experience really wasn’t that memorable.
Voters in Lee County are among those taking part in a special election to fill the unexpired term of state Sen. Greg Kirk, an Americus Republican who died recently after a battle with cancer. Voters will go to the polls on Feb. 4 to vote in the District 13 race.
Three weeks of early voting began on Monday in Lee County, so it was the first opportunity for election officials and voters to try out the new system that will be unveiled statewide in this year’s presidential primary.
The yellow cards inserted into the machines are familiar, as is the touchscreen used to select candidates. Instead of making final selections on the machine, however, voters receive a paper printout of selections they can review.
After confirming the information is correct, voters then insert their ballots in a scanner.
“The only difference is you get a piece of paper,” Lee County voter Judy Chapman said after completing the process on Thursday. “You get to make sure the name you elected is on the ballot.”
Georgia was the first to go to statewide use of electronic voting machines in 2002, and the system replaced by the new model was in use for nearly 20 years.
A federal judge ruled last year that the voting machines then in use could not be used after the fall 2019 elections.
“Everybody’s been very complimentary of the process,” said Veronica Johnson, Lee County’s director of elections and registration.
Johnson has held that position for 19 1/2 years, so rolling out a new touchscreen voting system is not new.
“I guess this is my second rodeo,” she said.
The slow pace of early voting allows Johnson and her staff time to get used to the new equipment.
Election supervisors were anticipating using the new equipment for the presidential primary in March, but those in the Senate district and House District 171, where early voting will run through Friday, got a crash course.
“We were not expecting this,” Johnson said. “This came up quick. One day a truck pulled up and they took the old equipment. The next day a truck came with the new equipment.
“Although we weren’t counting on it, we certainly are prepared for it. Failure is not an option, so we’re going to put everything we’ve got into making sure it does go smoothly.”
Although the extra step with the paper printout is new, Johnson said voters are not having any issues or complaining about the equipment.
Early voting in Lee County extends through Jan. 31 at the Elections office at 100 Starksville Ave. N., Suite C. Voting hours are 8:15 a.m.-5 p.m.
The Senate district includes Dodge, Dooly, Lee, Tift, Turner and Worth counties and parts of Sumter and Wilcox counties.
House District 171 includes Mitchell County and a portion of Colquitt and Decatur counties. The special election there became necessary after the death in November of state Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla, who died while on a Republican leadership retreat.
Decatur County was one of several counties selected in a pilot program to use the new equipment in prior elections, but it is new to voting supervisors — and voters — in the other two counties.
“It’s OK, I guess,” said Cindy Harris, who voted in Leesburg after election workers guided her through the process. “It’s different this time. I will know next time.”
Johnson said citizens in the county are invited to come by the Elections office Friday for a demonstration on use of the new voting machines.