WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — Early voting is now underway in more than half of U.S. states. For the most part, the big issue being reported is long lines as the presidential race draws record crowds to cast their ballots.
While much of the talk this election cycle has been about voting by mail, in-person voting will remain a key component of the election process. That’s especially true in the seven states where in-person voting remains the only option unless people can provide an approved reason outside of the fear of COVID-19. Those states are Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, Indiana and New York.
As the in-person voting process gets underway, there are some issues we’re tracking at the polls:
Confusion Over Posted Hours
Georgia’s elections have drawn national scrutiny in recent years. That was renewed in June when the state’s primary election was marred by long lines caused by equipment problems and high turnout, as well as coronavirus-related consolidations of polling places and shortages of poll workers.
We saw record crowds line up to vote Monday when early voting started in Georgia. However, some of those lines went nowhere as county offices closed polling places for the Columbus Day holiday.
The secretary of state’s office told the Associated Press it received no votes Monday from about a third of the state’s 159 counties. It was unclear how many of those were closed for the holiday — and whether that closure was communicated to voters. Despite those problems, the turnout was impressive.
“128,590 Georgians cast ballots in-person on the first day of early in-person voting for the November 2020 general election,” the Georgia Secretary of State’s office wrote in a press release. “This represents a 42% increase over the 90,688 voters who cast a ballot in-person on the first day of early, in-person voting during the November 2016 elections, the last record first day of early in-person voting.”
Early voting in Georgia is open to any available polling place inside a county.
Election officials in Georgia’s most populous county – Fulton County – faced glitches similar to those experienced in the primary election. According to Time, people were initially able to vote at State Farm Arena on Monday before a glitch knocked the system used to check voters in offline, backing up foot traffic at the state’s largest early voting location.
According to the magazine, the system was apparently brought back online mid-morning, but not before creating a massive backup for people planning to use one of the site’s 300 voting machines.
During the June primary, similar glitches, in combination with consolidated polling places, staffing shortages and coronavirus precautions created lengthy lines concerns about how the system would hold up during the General Election.
Voting Machine Issues
County leaders in Fort Bend County, outside of Houston, said Tuesday that the wrong date programmed into many machines was causing a malfunction and adding to the backup created by high voter turnout on the first day of early voting.
Former presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke tweeted that his friend in Fort Bend had spent more than seven hours in line waiting for his chance to vote. O’Rourke, a Democrat, urged judicial action to extend voting hours for individuals to ensure that everyone gets through the lines.
Officials in Fort Bend County have said they are investigating the incident but indicated that the system they are using is relatively new.
No Voter Registration List
Voters in Wichita County, Texas also faced headaches on the first day of early voting after the county clerk’s office struggled to provide needed registered voter lists.
Wichita County Clerk Lori Bohannon confirmed the issues in a release sent to the Times Record News indicating that the Texas Secretary of State’s office had been trying to resolve the issue since Friday, but that didn’t happen before the start of early voting.
Bohannon said early voting would have to be delayed Tuesday while officials continued to work on restoring the registration rolls.
Unapproved Drop Boxes
In California, several counties have reported discovering unapproved drop boxes that appear to be official vote by mail ballot return locations.
The unauthorized ballot drop boxes, some of which were labeled as “official” or “secure,” were identified in some Orange County cities on Sunday and were under investigation, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office said.
Neal Kelley, Orange County’s registrar of voters, said Monday that unauthorized ballot drop boxes are against state law. California Secretary of State Alex Padilla had issued a memo Sunday telling county registrars that such boxes are illegal, the Associated Press reported.
A spokesman for the state Republican Party, meanwhile, admitted the California GOP owns the boxes and doesn’t plan to remove them, according to AP. The spokesman wouldn’t say how many boxes there are or where they are located. He said the boxes are just a legal form of “ballot harvesting.”
Last-minute Registration Problems
The final day of registration in Virginia came to an abrupt pause when a severed fiber optic cable shut down the state’s voter registration system.
The Virginia Department of Elections said Tuesday in statement on Twitter that a cut cable was affecting connectivity for multiple agencies, including the citizen portal and registrar’s offices. The state’s IT agency said in a tweet that the cable was inadvertently cut during a Chesterfield County roadside utilities project.
The state also said technicians are working to repair the problem but did not have an estimate on how long that would take.
None of this issues reported this week appear likely to have a significant impact on the outcome of the presidential election, but they do point to the complexity of pulling off a high turnout national election during a pandemic. Given President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claims about widespread voter fraud in 2016 and again this year, such problems will remain under a microscope through the November 3rd election, if not beyond.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.