— By Patrick Filbin, Chattanooga Times Free Press, December 18, 2019 —
SUMMERVILLE, Ga. — Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is hopeful that the state’s new voting machines will pay off for Georgia, even though they posed issues for some counties in their test run in the November elections.
Raffensperger was in Chattooga and Gordon counties Wednesday afternoon taking tours of election and registrar offices to meet with local leaders and elections employees and get a sense of how manageable the switch will be.
He also was promoting his office’s “Secure the Vote” campaign, an education initiative that plans to build on a growing effort to show people across the state what to expect when they vote in 2020.
The secretary of state told the Times Free Press that even though some counties had issues with glitches that delayed results, it’s beneficial for the department to get those out of the way before the 2020 elections and use those situations as a learning experience.
“We learned [some things after the November elections] and so that’s really why it’s such a tremendous opportunity,” he said. “You could call it a live fire exercise.”
Raffensperger also mentioned the upcoming special election in January in state District 171 after Georgia Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla, suddenly died after collapsing at a lawmaker retreat in Young Harris.
Catoosa County was one of a handful of counties in the state to test the new machines in November. Catoosa election officials didn’t have any trouble with the new machines.
Raffensperger compared the rollout of the new machines to being down early in a football game.
“We all think we’re ready before the big game and all of a sudden you show up and you realize you’re down 14 nothing in the first quarter,” he said. “I guess we weren’t ready.”
He said it’s important to do as many pilot programs and live exercises as you need to make sure “you get everyone ready for the fourth quarter.”
The department is ahead of schedule in replacing the old systems. Raffensperger said more than 25,000 of the 33,000 new machines have been certified. The next step will be shipping those machines to Georgia’s 159 counties.
Sheena Weaver, chief registrar in Chattooga County, has held three demonstrations for the new voting machines. A total of six people have attended, but she said the demonstrations have gone smoothly.
Raffensperger recommended setting up demonstrations before commission meetings and other community meetings to help increase turnout.
Chattooga County showed strong voter turnout in 2018’s midterm elections.
In total, 67.25% of registered voters came out in 2018. That’s compared to 45.5% in 2014 and 44.2% in 2010.
As with many counties across the state and generally around the country, voter turnout was higher during presidential races. Chattooga County saw 75.4% turnout in 2016 and 66.8% in 2012.
As far as the new machines go, Weaver believes it will be a mostly painless process.
“My biggest concern is just that people are going to walk out with that paper ballot and not realize that it was their actual ballot that needed [to be] fed [in the machine],” she said.
To prevent that, Weaver is planning to have a poll worker within arm’s reach of every machine to make sure people don’t walk out with their paper ballot that was just printed from the new machines.
Raffensperger said his office is preparing for record turnout in the 2020 election. The office is estimating that more than 5 million of Georgia’s registered voters could cast ballots in 2020.
Raffensperger also lauded the new machines’ ability to audit votes and entire races in a more efficient manner.
“There can be some really close races,” he said. “It can be a 60/40 race, it can be 80/20. These machines are able to verify the votes with the audit system so you get the true result.”
Raffensperger believes the new machines will give voters confidence in the voting system in Georgia.
“We understand that these are polarized times we live in,” he said. “Half the people are happy, half the people are sad, but we want 100% of the people to have that confidence that we got it right.”