by Fengyao Luo
During the first week of early voting, 3,892 citizens cast ballots in Athens-Clarke County.
Cora Wright is the interim director for the Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections, and she’s a veteran who’s been there for 21 years. She knows that this is just the beginning of what promises to be a high turnout year. More than 73,000 people are registered to vote, so those who’ve come in so far represent about 5 percent of the total.
The Board of Elections Office on Washington Street is busy because it’s the only place for early voting in Clarke County during the first week. Early voters stream through the doors, following signs leading to the counter where they check in with friendly clerks and pick up the plastic card needed to activate one of the voting machines crowded into an alcove beside the door.
Setting up voting equipment is a part of the staff member’s job. Clarke County poll workers tested the machines and calibrated their touch screens in advance, at a secure location. “We are required to test all polling equipment before each election. Once these all have been done, we sealed the machines and locked them up until the Election Day,” said Wright.
The voting machines used in ACC are not connected to the internet, which reduces the risk of any kind of cyber tampering. Data cards are collected when the polls close on Nov. 8, taken to a central location, and read electronically to tally the votes.
Poll workers in the office are always polite and friendly. They smile to every citizens and are patient about explaining how things work to young and old alike.
Leona Lightburn is one of the poll workers in the Board of Elections office. She sits at a computer, checks voter photo IDs, and directs voters – some of them newbies and others old hands – to the voting machines. She works every Monday to Wednesday 8 a.m.- 5 p.m. during early voting.
Georgia law requires people to show a photo ID in order to vote. But sometimes people forget, especially elders who no longer drive. “We do have provisional voting when people show up without their ID,” Wright said. “We had a lady here yesterday [who forgot her ID], so I let her write a paper ballot. She has to send her copy of photo ID [to our office], and then her ballot will count.”
Lightburn is also the poll manager for precinct 5C – the Chase Street Elementary School.
High turnout is expected on Nov. 8 and schools in Athens will be closed for the day, in order to reduce traffic and secure the safety of children. Wright said, “We have quite a few schools as polling places, and parking will be provided there. It is hard for voters to get there early at 7 a.m. while parents are trying to drop off their kids.”
Three polling places have been relocated this year, and Wright recommends that people visit the My Voter Page website, www.mvp.sos.ga.gov, to make sure they’re going to the location where they are allowed to vote. “The worst thing is going to the wrong polling place.”