— By Stephen Fowler, GPB.org, February 26, 2020 —
Just before lunchtime in the Henry County Board of Elections office, a stream of workers filled into a back room to practice the election process from start to finish.
Check in and receive a ballot access card. Make your selections on a large touchscreen. Print a paper ballot, review the paper ballot, insert it into the scanner – and repeat.
It’s part of a mock election counties are participating in that acts as a stress test of sorts less than a week before Georgians statewide cast their first ballots on the new $104 million ballot-marking device system.
Henry County Elections Director Ameika Pitts has spent more than two decades in the realm of voting, starting out as a poll worker. She said that having her staff practice the process again will make sure they are prepared once the real thing arrives.
“It’s important because sometimes things happen,” she said. “And this is a good opportunity to just run through everything and know that everything is running smoothly.”
Grayson Davis, a supervisor in the office, said the mock election is just a fraction of the things county staff and poll workers will do to make sure the voting process works correctly.
“There’s actually quite a lot we have to coordinate for Henry County’s 37 different polling places,” he said, including everything from setting up signage to testing machines to opening up a polling place. “And that’s all just before they can even turn the machines on.”
The March 24 presidential primary will be the first statewide election conducted on the Dominion ballot-marking devices, which include a touchscreen voting machine that is connected to a printer that creates a paper ballot. That ballot has a textual summary of the voter’s selections and a QR barcode that is inserted into a scanner, and the barcode is then scanned and tabulated.
With a new system rapidly rolled out across 159 counties, different challenges and pain points have arisen.
In Henry, Davis said a big focus was making sure poll workers new how to manage all of the cords needed for the touchscreen machines and the printers. In a special election in southwest Georgia, poll workers forgot to plug a scanner into a power source or inserted voter access cards the wrong way.
In a statement, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger called the mock election a success and said the issues that have arisen over the last few months are to be expected – and addressed.
“The county officials who actually run the elections proved they have the skills and the equipment to be ready for a record turnout when Georgia launches secure paper balloting statewide,” he said. “There were small things that showed poll workers what they need to watch out for. I’m confident the county officials will address them all with training.”
Pitts said Henry County residents should feel confident in the new system and with preparations elections staff have made, including one additional early voting location.
“I do feel prepared … it has been challenging, of course, but we just took the challenge head on and just did things that need to be done and worked the hours that needed to be worked,” she said. “We work to make sure it happens, and we’ll be ready when polls open Monday morning.”