— Stephen Fowler, GPB, February 10, 2020 —
The Georgia secretary of state’s office is launching an expanded partnership with The King Center to bring demonstrations of the state’s new $104 million voting system to more than 100 congregations across the state this year.
Next month’s presidential primary election will be the first statewide election conducted on the ballot-marking device system that includes a touchscreen voting machine that prints out a paper ballot with a QR code and textual summary of your vote. The paper ballot is then inserted into a scanner where it is tabulated and stored. The QR code is the part of the ballot that is counted.
Six counties piloted the machines in November 2019 municipal elections, December runoffs and a pair of special elections in January. State elections officials are looking to smooth out issues reported in those contests, attributed mostly to “human error.”
At a meeting of the Concerned Black Clergy of Metro Atlanta, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said community outreach is important to make sure all Georgians know the differences – and similarities – of the new system.
“We did a poll and found out that only about 50% of all Georgians know that we have new voting machines that are coming out,” he said. “So what we really want to do is reach out across the entire state, every community, to all parts.”
Raffensperger said this fall’s election could see more than 5 million Georgians cast their ballot for president, two U.S. Senate seats, every U.S. House seat and all members of the state legislature, a record-setting turnout. He also said elections officials want to make sure lines are never longer than 30 minutes.
“And one of the ways we can do that is having voters that are familiar with the system,” he told the group. “So you all have a big part to play in that, and we’re really grateful for this opportunity.”
Rev. Bettye Holland Williams, president of the Concerned Black Clergy of Metro Atlanta, received a demonstration of the new system from Raffensperger and elections staff, from the poll pad check-in system to the touchscreen to inserting the ballot into the scanner.
After the demonstration, several members of the audience had questions about the system, ranging from what the state was doing to combat voter suppression to ways officials can ensure older voters who aren’t as comfortable with technology do not get intimidated by the new machines.
“That’s been part of our discussion, making sure we reach the elderly and show them that this is accessible,” Leo Smith with the state’s Secure the Vote initiative said. “We can accommodate any of their needs, and their vote is going to be cast as it normally has been.”
Dr. Debbie Wallace is a member of the Concerned Black Clergy and said bringing the machines into the community was imperative to restoring trust in the electoral process.
“People are very afraid about ‘Does it matter, is it gonna be fair?’ and they’re intimidated by it,” she said. “And there’s always false rumors out there that make people stay home.”
Gladys “Lady G” Dancy, another member of the CBC, said she would ask the state to bring the machines to her senior building in Cobb County.
“Voting to me means ‘victory over the enemy,’ and when you have victory over the enemy you have a voice,” she said.
Dancy said voting on the new machines was a little challenging, adding that voters will need to be trained on the system just as much as poll workers.
“You really need to be trained on how to do this,” she said. “The people helping the voters need to walk voters through this… as long as I’ve been voting all my life I never had to go through so many steps.”
Visitors to The King Center in Atlanta can already experience a hands-on demonstration of the ballot-marking devices through a partnership with the secretary of state’s office.
The new, expanded initiative announced Monday seeks to find 100 congregations from around Georgia to hold similar demonstrations of the systems.
By the end of the week, all 159 counties should have all of their equipment delivered as part of a tight logistical turnaround for the largest and most expensive single implementation of a voting system in the country.