Georgia’s voting machines had few problems on election day in Chatham

Chatham County’s election day went fairly smoothly, but it wasn’t without its problems, Electoral Superintendent Billy Wooten said about an hour before polling stations closed on Tuesday.

There were problems with the state’s voting equipment that delayed voting in some counties across the county. Sometimes the problems were due to user error; sometimes it was an old or faulty outlet; Sometimes there was a paper jam in the scanner.

These machines are still very new for Georgia. The 2019 purchase of Dominion Voting System machines was the largest in the state’s history, and they were only used for a few major elections: the November 2020 general election and the January 2021 runoff.

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Wooten says all 92 polling stations in Chatham opened on time and he saw no need to ask a judge to extend a polling station’s opening hours.

Wooten said the only time he would consider doing so is if polling stations didn’t open on time.

“Everyone’s open on time,” Wooten said. “And we had some disruptions, but that doesn’t mean we weren’t open, and it doesn’t mean voters couldn’t check in while we were fixing a machine or while we were fixing an electrical problem.”

Problems with voting machines

Just because the polling stations opened on time doesn’t mean everything went smoothly. As with any election, equipment problems have held up voting across the country at several points throughout the day.

Five voters in Savannah High School’s 3-03 District were forced to cast provisional ballots Tuesday because of electrical problems. One of the outlets didn’t keep the machines charged.

On election day, voting machine technicians picked up reports of machine failures across the county, going from county to county looking for problems.

While technicians added extra power to the site via extension cords, voters cast preliminary ballots.

In Precinct 7-09, Compassion Christian Church, the poll opened on time, but there were issues with some touchscreens. According to Wooten, a technician was dispatched to the site and the problems were fixed. He noted that not all machines were affected by the problem.

Wooten said he stopped by Precinct 8-09, the Moses Jackson Center, where there was a problem with a device called an encoder. Voting ground to a halt earlier in the day, with some voters having to return to the polls afterwards.

“I spoke to them and apologized for not being able to vote the first time. They were very gracious and said they understood how things happen and they cast a vote,” Wooten said.

Previously, Wooten decided to look into an issue reported in District 1-06, Central Church of Christ, as the Stephenson address not far from BOE headquarters at 1117 Eisenhower Dr.

Wooten drove over and found that the problem with the voting machine was due to operator error, made somewhat worse by the growing number of voters outside.

He intervened, and he and the poll workers managed to figure out the problem. Wooten said the line moved smoothly as he left to try to put out another fire.

There were a few technical issues at Wilmington Island Presbyterian Church, Districts 4-8 early this morning, but all were resolved quickly, said survey director Roxy Hogan.

“When I say paper jam,” Hogan explained, “that’s normal.”

At District 8-01, the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum, there was a problem with the scanner, the final step in the voting process.

After submitting their ballot, voters receive a paper copy of their vote, which goes into the scanner. It aims to provide voters with a way to proofread their ballots and serves as a paper trail for exams, like the one in 2020.

But voting in the district never stopped, Wooten said. The paper copies were placed in the locked emergency containers as described by state law.

“The law says voters put their ballots in the emergency bin if the scanner isn’t working while the technicians fix their scanners,” Wooten said. “So we can keep voting… until they can be scanned.”

Wooten was an election worker himself with two decades of experience before taking the job. He said early Tuesday that there will always be small fires on election day, but overall he was proud of his team and the work they did during election hours.

“Aside from having to move people, we really just had a couple of little things, printers weren’t working, things like that,” Wooten said Tuesday morning. “If you have (use) 2,700 pieces of equipment, you will have some problems. But every election was opened, and no election was opened too late.”

Will Peebles is a corporate reporter for Savannah Morning News. He can be reached on Twitter at wpeebles@gannett.com and @willpeeblessmn.