ATLANTA (AP) -- After a rocky primary election that spawned viral photos of voters waiting for hours to cast their ballots, Georgia election officials are hoping steps taken since then will help things run more smoothly this Election Day.
Polling places have been added across the state, new poll workers have been recruited and trained, and a record number of people voted early in person or by absentee ballot in the weeks leading up to Nov. 3. But the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage, and voter enthusiasm is expected to drive high turnout.
Voters lined up outside polling places before they opened at 7 a.m. At an elementary school in Atlanta, a technical problem forced voters to cast paper ballots instead of voting on machines. Some people left the line and said they would return when the machines were back up.
In Spalding County about 40 miles south of Atlanta, all voting machines were down, Elections Supervisor Marcia Ridley told WSB-TV. Provisional ballots were being sent to polling sites so people could vote.
Elsewhere in the state, voting appeared to run smoothly initially.
At the Cobb County Civic Center outside Atlanta, Kelvin Hardnett stood in line in near-freezing weather for nearly an hour before polls opened.
"I believe there's a lot of division and separation," said Hardnett, 36, who works for a security firm. "And I believe that once we get past the names and the titles and the personal agendas, then you know, we can focus on some real issues."
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, the state's top elections official, has repeatedly said he expects a total turnout of as many as 5.5 million voters, up about 34% from 4.1 million voters in 2016.
"My goal, which we have been working toward since my election, is to provide a smooth, safe, responsible and sensible voting experience for each and every Georgia voter, regardless of ZIP code," Raffensperger said during a news conference Monday.
A record of nearly 2.7 million voters cast their ballots during the state's three-week early in-person voting period. Another 1.2 million absentee ballots had been received and accepted by Monday morning.
A combination of factors contributed to long lines during the primary election in June, including equipment problems, coronavirus-related poll worker shortages and consolidation of polling places. Voters also queued for hours during early in-person voting last month, with some waiting more than eight hours to cast a ballot.
The primary was the first statewide election carried out on the new election system the state bought for more than $100 million last year from Dominion Voting Systems. The system includes touchscreen voting machines that print paper ballots for voters to insert into scanners, which read a barcode to record and tally the votes.
The coronavirus outbreak complicated training on the new system and many experienced poll workers dropped out ahead of the primary, fearing exposure to the virus. Since then, thousands of new poll workers have been recruited and trained, and election officials organized an army of technicians, on hand to troubleshoot any equipment problems.
Raffensperger said his office reviewed wait times and check-in times for precincts across the state after the primary, along with the number of registered voters, turnout and equipment distribution. They then advised counties to add more voting equipment in some places or to split precincts. That has resulted in several hundred new polling places for the general election, he said.
Fulton County alone added 91 polling places, bringing the total from 164 for the primary to 255 for the general election, according to elections director Rick Barron.
Aklima Khondoker, Georgia state director for All Voting is Local, welcomes the addition of new polling places to mitigate long lines. But she said state and county election officials need to "make sure that voters have critical, up-to-date information, because voters will be discouraged and confused because they will not know where they need to be on Election Day."
Despite all these measures, Raffensperger warned that lines may still be long given the expected high turnout. He urged patience.
"If you are voting on Tuesday, you will potentially experience lines," Raffensperger said last week. "This is the reality when millions of people try to do the same thing at once."
Khondoker said that voter enthusiasm is not an excuse for long lines and election officials should take steps to provide adequate infrastructure. Still, she's inspired by the high turnout.
"Your vote is your connection to your community," she said. "Seeing more people being connected in that way is very inspiring."