MACON, Ga. — The Macon-Bibb County Board of Elections is racing against the clock to prepare for the Dec. 6 runoffs, early voting and possible Saturday voting that was permitted by a Friday court decision.
Not only are races undecided in the U.S. Senate for Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker and Macon Water Authority District 2’s Desmond Brown and Lindsay Holliday, but many key decisions have yet to be settled about how the local election will be handled.
Georgia law prohibits a Saturday vote within two days of a holiday, which eliminates Nov. 26 from consideration, but Sen. Raphael Warnock’s campaign and other Democratic groups sued. Friday, a Fulton County judge ruled that counties could schedule voting that day.
During Thursday’s meeting, the board discussed being ready for Saturday voting if the judge authorized it.
The board voted 3-2 Thursday night to try to open the Elaine Lucas Senior Center in Carolyn Crayton Park and the Theron Ussery Park off Wimbish Road in north Macon. Both Republican representatives, Herb Spangler and Joel Hazard, voted against it.
The local elections board voted against holding Sunday voting. Board Chairman Mike Kaplan said only about 470 people voted on Sunday ahead of the general election.
“If we have Saturday, we don’t need Sunday,” said Kaplan, who feared election techs would quit if they had to prep for two extra days. “So much is up in the air right now it’s hard to make a decision that makes any sense because we don’t know what the hell is going on and I hate that this has been put on every board of election across the state.”
Around 26,000 people voted early in the general election, which made opening additional early voting sites a priority for some board members.
Kaplan surmised that if 20,000 people voted early in the runoff over the five days currently authorized, that would create lines at the board of elections with an average of about 4,000 per day.
Darius Maynard was the one who proposed opening additional sites.
“I think we have established ourselves as a county that engages in early voting,” said Maynard, one of two Democrat representatives on the board. “We’ve also established ourselves as a county that has access to polls and at more than one location, just looking back historically.”
Interim elections supervisor Tom Gillon said only the elections office at 2525 Pio Nono Ave. has been submitted to the Secretary of State, so far, and that there are events scheduled at both of the other early voting sites during the week of Nov. 28 – Dec. 2.
“We can possibly, probably, maybe persuade them to move those events, cancel those events or reschedule those events. Right now there are things going on in those location at that time,” Gillon said.
Maynard suggested that going forward, the county should always certify all its early voting locations.
The general election was certified just days ago, and with the tight time frame to get machines ready for the run-off, Gillon said his short-staffed technical department will be pressed to get everything ready even without extra polling locations and voting dates.
“It takes more than flipping a switch,” Gillon said.
“That’s something that needs to be demonstrated to the state because they don’t see what’s going on here. If they don’t see a problem, they won’t know there’s a problem,” Maynard said. “Oh, they’re going to know there’s a problem.”
“But I don’t think we should demonstrate the problem by destroying our techs, “ Gillon said.
“Oh no, that’s definitely not what I’m trying to do,” Maynard said.
Kaplan applauded the men and women who are transporting thousands of pieces of voting equipment.
“They do a fabulous job,” he said.
Short window for absentee ballots
As of Thursday evening, Macon-Bibb County was still waiting for runoff ballots.
Maynard said many counties face this problem and the other consequences of some of the new state election mandates.
“Which is, sorry to say, a good problem because you have people making laws who don’t do the job and they’ll see (the problems),” Maynard said.
The board hopes to mail absentee ballots by Thanksgiving, which will leave less than two weeks for them to be return in time to be counted.
“Please let your folks and everyone know, don’t sit on absentee ballots, there’s not a lot of time,” Kaplan said.
Gillon reported the general election went off with “very few hiccups, no more than normal,” and the risk-limited audit of the computer-selected Howard 1 precinct was recently conducted in about 30 minutes and did not show any irregularities.
“Outstanding,” board member Joel Hazard said. ” It was perfect. There are other places in the state that weren’t so perfect.”
The announcement led to a round of applause.
Kaplan also mentioned that more than two dozen ballots that were missing from a prior audit of three precincts were recently found in some training materials.
“We were a 100 precent match there as well, so the scanners seem to be working,” Kaplan said.
– Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 478-301-2976.