Ballot-marking device

Liz Fabian

Facing an avalanche of interest in absentee voting because of the coronavirus, county election administrators can begin processing – but not tabulating – mail-in ballots earlier under a new rule passed by the State Election Board Monday.

The emergency measure enables elections staff to get a head start on absentee ballots for the June 9 election only, allowing them to start handling the ballots June 1.

As of Monday morning, more than 1.4 million Georgians have requested an absentee ballot for the June 9 primary and over 360,000 ballots have been completed and returned.

Georgia Elections Officials Grapple With Potential COVID-19 Illness At Polls

Apr 29, 2020
Stephen Fowler / GPB News

Georgia elections officials face a daunting question as they prepare for early voting in the June 9 primary in the midst of a global pandemic: What do they do if a voter appears ill?

“I’ve asked for guidance from the state as to what we’re supposed to do if a manager notices anyone in line with symptoms,” Fulton County Elections Director Richard Barron said at a recent elections board meeting. “I still haven’t heard back.”

GPB News and the Georgia News Lab asked dozens of county supervisors how they would handle such a situation. None reported receiving any guidance from the state elections officials as of publication, leaving local officials to determine how to balance health and safety concerns due to COVID-19 against the fundamental right to vote.

Stephen Fowler | GPB News

As coronavirus continues to spread in communities across Georgia, elections officials are grappling with the challenge of running a safe, fair and secure election during a pandemic.  

GPB News and Georgia News Lab reporters spoke with more than half of the state’s 159 county elections directors who described an extra layer of uncertainty — even fear, in some cases — about preparations for the May 19 primary.


Stephen Fowler / GPB News

The spread of coronavirus is changing the way we vote in Georgia, coming at a critical time for elections officials.

Voters are being encouraged to use mail-in absentee ballots and the March 24 presidential primary is postponed until May. Counties also could face a shortage of poll workers as people choose to stay home for their health.

Stephen Fowler | GPB News

Georgia’s presidential primary will be postponed until May 19, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced Saturday, in an effort to protect poll workers and voters traveling to the polls.

In a statement, the top election official said it was a decision to mitigate higher risk, especially since Georgia’s poll workers average 70-years-old.

Stephen Fowler | GPB News

After a marathon hearing in Athens Wednesday, the Georgia State Election Board has ordered Athens-Clarke County to cease using hand-marked paper ballots and return to using the ballot-marking devices or face further sanctions.

The five-member board, chaired by Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, also voted to impose a $2,500 fine to cover part of the costs of investigating the violations, plus a $5,000 a day fine if the switch is not made. Elections Director Charlotte Sosebee said her staff would make the change Thursday morning.

Stephen Fowler | GPB News

UPDATE Sun. March 15, 2020: Georgia's presidential primary has been postponed until May. All early voting has been suspended.

From cleaning touchscreen machines to encouraging absentee voting, recent guidance shared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Georgia Secretary of State’s office seeks to minimize the risk of coronavirus at polling places.

Poll workers should use isopropyl alcohol wipes on the ballot-marking devices, provide hand sanitizer throughout voting locations and consider bringing in extra poll workers in case someone becomes ill, an email sent Friday to county officials reads.

Paul Sancya / AP

The Georgia Secretary of State’s office is joining a national coalition of media companies, nonprofits, governments and other groups to encourage people to participate in early voting before the Nov. 3, 2020, election.

The “Vote Early Day” is set for Saturday, Oct. 24, a time when most voters will still be able to request an absentee ballot or use in-person early voting options.

Stephen Fowler | GPB News

The Georgia State Election Board is holding an emergency hearing in Athens next week to determine whether Athens-Clarke County is violating several state laws by not conducting elections on the state’s new $104 million voting system.

According to a notice sent to the county board of elections, Athens-Clarke officials should be prepared to present evidence explaining why it voted 3-2 to determine that it would be “impossible and impracticable” to use the ballot-marking devices. Athens-Clarke officials have moved to paper ballots instead.

Stephen Fowler | GPB News

The Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections is now conducting its presidential primary election on hand-marked paper ballots instead of ballot-marking devices, citing ballot privacy concerns and breaking rank from a state law requiring uniform voting systems.

The five-member board voted 3-2 to make the switch away from electronic voting citing a provision of state law that says an election may be conducted by paper ballot if the use of the machines “is impossible or impracticable.”

The Georgia State Constitution also said, “Elections by the people shall be by secret ballot and shall be conducted in accordance with procedures provided by law.”


Stephen Fowler | GPB News

This week’s early voting for the presidential preference primary is the first statewide implementation of the new $104 million touchscreen voting system with a paper ballot component.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said more than 17,000 voters across Georgia used them on Monday, and called the “Herculean task” of preparing them for early voting a success.

Stephen Fowler | GPB News

As early voting kicks off for the March 24 presidential primary this week, county elections officials are anticipating higher-than-average turnout from a record number of registered voters while also rolling out a new type of voting machine. 

It’s the first major election for the $104 million ballot-marking device system, and GPB News asked officials across the state how they are preparing to run successful elections.


Andrew Harnik / AP

A new proposal filed in the Georgia state Senate Friday aims to cut down on long lines at the polls.

SB 463 would require county elections officials to add more equipment, more poll workers or split up a precinct if voters in precincts with more than 2,000 registered voters wait longer than an hour to check in.

The bill would require wait times be measured during three different points of Election Day – morning, midday and in the evening before polls close.

Stephen Fowler | GPB News

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.


Stephen Fowler | GPB News

At the state’s election warehouse northwest of Atlanta Friday morning, a buzzing hive of workers loaded trucks with boxes of voting equipment, some of the final shipments to Georgia counties ahead of the March presidential primary.

Since December, the secretary of state’s office has delivered more than 200,000 pieces of equipment to the state’s 159 counties, ranging from touchscreen ballot-marking devices to printers used to create paper ballots to the scanners that will tabulate the voter’s choices.


Stephen Fowler / GPB News

As election workers across the state begin final preparations for the new ballot-marking device system being used for the March 24 presidential primary election, Fulton County officials say early voting will be a key factor in preventing long lines.

Fulton County Elections Director Rick Barron said Wednesday the county will receive the final shipments of its ballot-marking devices by the end of this week and begin logic and accuracy testing on Monday.


Stephen Fowler | GPB News

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.

Stephen Fowler | GPB News

The Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections has begun testing components of Georgia’s new $104 million ballot-marking device voting system that will be used in less than a month for the presidential primary election.

Logic and accuracy testing began Tuesday morning for the system that includes BMDs, printers, polling place scanners and a central scanner that will process absentee ballots cast prior to Election Day.

Stephen Fowler / GPB News

Elections officials in three southwest Georgia counties reported no issues with the state’s new touchscreen ballot-marking device system during early voting, but poll watchers and staff noted issues with several parts of the process on Election Day.

The $104 million BMD system includes a poll pad that checks voters in, a touchscreen computer to make selections, a printer that creates a paper ballot with a text summary of choices plus a QR code and a scanner that tabulates votes and stores the paper.


Georgia Secretary of State's Office

Elections officials participating in a state House special election in southwest Georgia say there have been no problems during the early voting period with the new ballot-marking device election system that prints out a paper ballot.

Tuesday is Election Day for voters in House District 171, which covers part of Colquitt, Decatur and Mitchell counties, and early voting is underway for Senate District 13, covering eight counties.

Stephen Fowler | GPB News

A bill intended to codify the secretary of state’s authority to set qualifying dates for special elections has turned into a proxy battle over Gov. Brian Kemp’s choice for U.S. Senate.

A substitute to HB 757 passed the elections subcommittee of the governmental affairs committee Monday afternoon on an 8-2 vote.

The original language of the bill, authored by House Judiciary Chairman Barry Fleming (R-Harlem), codified a longstanding policy that gave the state’s top election official the latitude to schedule the two-and-a-half day period that candidates for a special election must qualify to appear on the ballot.

Stephen Fowler | GPB News

Standing at the edge of a DeKalb County loading dock, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger joined several reporters and elections staff as a nondescript white truck slowly backed up to unload its cargo.

The truck was loaded with battery backups that will help power 2,839 ballot-marking devices used by DeKalb voters in future elections. It was the first of many shipments arriving that day.

While the holiday season has made coordinating deliveries to local officials tricky, Raffensperger said that more than 25,000 of the 33,100 BMDs are tested and in the state’s control and 32 of Georgia’s 159 counties have received nearly all of their new voting machines and accessories.


Stephen Fowler / GPB News

Nearly half of Georgia’s 159 counties are getting more voting machines than allotted in the original request for proposals, according to the latest numbers from the secretary of state’s office.

Georgia has purchased 33,100 Dominion ballot-marking devices as part of the largest single implementation of a new voting system in U.S. history, with 31,826 of them slated to be delivered to counties ahead of the March 24 presidential preference primary.

Special to GPB News

The Georgia Secretary of State’s office has opened an investigation into allegations that three vocal critics of Georgia’s new ballot-marking device voting machines potentially violated election law while observing voting at a Paulding County polling place this past Election Day.  

Stephen Fowler | GPB News

State elections officials say issues that arose during last Tuesday’s pilot of the new ballot-marking device voting system can be easily fixed before the first statewide election in March.

The secretary of state’s office also says the delivery of the new voting system should be complete by the end of January, about two months before the March 24 presidential preference primary election.

David Goldman / AP Photo

The Secretary of State's Office has released its Request for Proposals (RFP) to upgrade Georgia's 27,000 touchscreen direct-recording electronic voting machines. 

Gov. Brian Kemp still has to sign HB 316, which would make Georgia the only state in the country to conduct elections solely on touchscreen ballot-marking devices.