Athens residents vote early at City Hall and the Board of Elections in Athens, Georgia on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020. Poll workers said the second location, City Hall, was opened in response to the long lines on Monday. (Photo/Taylor Gerlach; @taylormckenzie_photo)

Georgia voters rushed to the polls on Monday at the start of early voting this week. About 128,000 voters showed up on Oct. 12, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Voters faced long lines in counties across the state, and Athens-Clarke County was no exception.

Early voters stayed 6 feet apart as the line at the ACC Board of Elections Office snaked its way around the building and behind City Hall. The average wait time on Oct. 12 and 13 was about two to three hours.

Polling patience

William Mussell, a senior Spanish and linguistics double major, waited in line for three hours on Monday. Mussell said he decided to vote early when he realized it was probably too late to request an absentee ballot. 

Mussell’s plan was to drive to the office, vote and then grab lunch with a friend. His friend ended up bringing him lunch while he waited in line. 

“It took ages to process each voter,” Mussell said, who waited two hours until reaching the halfway point in line, and then another hour to finally cast his vote.

Abby Waldron voted on Tuesday because her morning class was canceled and she didn’t have work. Waldron, a senior history major, said everything was organized and efficient — the only issue was the two and a half hour wait. 

About thirty minutes into her wait, Waldron noticed workers making a second line and directing voters into City Hall. 

The ACC board of elections scrambled to add an overflow room in the basement of City Hall on Tuesday, assistant Lisa McGlaun said. As of Wednesday morning, the wait times were down to about 45 minutes in both lines, she said. 

While voters said it would be helpful if other locations could open up earlier than scheduled, the board of elections office and the overflow room in City Hall are the only open polling locations until Oct. 24. 

Elections officials have always prepared for elections knowing that historically the last week of early voting is the busiest, McGlaun said. The office has been in contact with some of the other locations that are scheduled to open at the end of the month, but it wasn’t possible to open them earlier. McGlaun said she has never seen an early voting situation like this.

“To open city hall was a monumental feat,” McGlaun said. “I think people having to wait as long as they did, I was really impressed with how kind and patient everyone is.”

About a quarter of the voters waiting in line when Waldron voted were students, she said. She suggested that the board of elections put pressure on the University of Georgia to open Stegeman Coliseum for early voting sooner than planned. Stegeman Coliseum is scheduled to be open on Oct. 27-29. 

Matt Goren was expecting the early voting line to be long, but he didn’t plan to wait almost three hours. 

Goren, who’s also signed up to be a poll worker on Election Day, timed himself once he made it inside the office to vote — it took him about 3-4 minutes. 

There are six machines in use in the board of elections office and four in the overflow room, McGlaun said.

Goren also questioned using the board of elections office since the venue is so small. The layout of the room requires voters walk all the way around the room to check in, vote on the electronic machine, get their printed ballot and scan it, Goren explained.

“Why force us into a tiny room when we’re in the middle of a global pandemic?” Goren said.

Paying the price

Because Mussell waited in line for three hours, when he got back to his car he found a parking ticket from the Athens Downtown Development Authority. The downtown parking meters only let people pay up to two hours at a time.

ADDA Planning Director David Lynn said any voter who has received a parking ticket while voting will not have to pay it. People can email a picture of their ticket or bring it by the office at the College Avenue parking deck to be voided. 

Lynn said the ADDA has a policy to refrain from ticketing the streets around City Hall during early voting — Hancock Street, Washington Street, two blocks of College Avenue and Lumpkin Street.

Mussell wasn’t sure if the lines are long because people are “getting it out of their system,” but he encouraged voters thinking about going early to check when there’s a shorter line. 

Despite the wait, Waldron was able to have interesting conversations with the voters around her in line. 

“There were so many people being really kind and helpful, especially with the older voters, it made me proud to live in Athens and see that,” Waldron said. “I would rather stand in line for 5 hours than have people not voting.”