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Turnout up during primary voting in Hall and across state
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Oakwood voters wait in line at West Hall Baptist Church shortly before the polls were set to close May 24, 2022. - photo by Jeff Gill

It’s the kind of turnout every church craves, but not quite for the same reason.

Voters crowded West Hall Baptist Church for Tuesday’s primary late in the day, with reports of some waiting up to an hour to cast ballots. Voters exiting the polling place said they waited up to 35 minutes.

“We got full usage of (voting) machines. It’s just a large turnout,” said Tom Smiley, Hall County Election Board chairman. “We do have that polling place in mind for some adjustments either at the November election or perhaps even the runoff.”

By the end of Election Day, 25.3% of registered voters had cast ballots. In 2018, 17.82% voted.

West Hall Baptist was one of three precincts that had changed locations in Hall. 

“We’ve had a lot of good turnout,” said Stephanie Homewood, poll manager at West Hall Baptist, noting there was little confusion over the new location.

The other two new locations are Oakwood First United Methodist Church and Flowery Branch City Hall.

West Hall Baptist, specifically, “was a change we had to make because the previous location was under renovation and was not available to us,” Smiley said. “We had a difficult time finding all the governmental criteria.”

Voters previously cast ballots at OGT Family Worship Center farther north on McEver Road.

Otherwise, officials said voting ran smoothly.

Election Day voting began briskly Tuesday morning at Flowery Branch City Hall.

Joe Parris, poll manager at that precinct, said 17 people were lined up as it opened at 7 a.m.

At least one voter went to the former precinct at Flowery Branch Elementary School, saw a sign about the new precinct, “then came over here,” Parris said Tuesday morning. 

Several local and state seats are up for election this year, including top ticket races like governor and U.S. Senate all the way down to local board of education seats. 

Across the state, voting appeared to be running smoothly with no reports of major problems.

A record number of ballots cast statewide during the early voting period in the three weeks before Election Day helped ease the strain at some polling places. There were no reports of long lines or widespread equipment problems by Tuesday afternoon despite the hotly contested GOP primary races for governor and U.S. Senate.

"It's all quiet, and quiet is good," said Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who also was facing a GOP primary challenger in his reelection bid.

He said overall turnout was on track to set a record for a midterm election in the state.

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A voter enters the First Baptist Church banquet hall Tuesday, May 24, 2022, to cast a ballot in the primary. - photo by Scott Rogers

Tuesday's primary was the first major election since the GOP-controlled legislature and Republican governor adopted tighter rules following the 2020 presidential election.

Lawmakers added restrictions to mail voting, limited drop boxes and changed rules that could make it harder for voters who run into problems on Election Day to have their ballots counted. 

Election Day capped a record-setting early voting period in Georgia. Nearly 860,000 ballots had been cast through Friday, the majority of which were done in-person as opposed to mail. State election officials said the early turnout marked a 168% increase from the 2018 primary and a 212% increase from 2020.

Republicans have touted the early voting numbers as evidence that the Georgia elections law, known as Senate Bill 202, has not harmed voters.

"Now we are seeing the hard evidence that as we all knew, the hysteria was never based on fact to begin with," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on the Senate floor Tuesday. "Shame, shame on the Democrats who pushed the big lie that a grand scheme was afoot to prevent millions of Americans from voting. It was never true."

Since primaries tend to draw more experienced voters, it may be too soon to draw any sweeping conclusions about the effects of the Georgia law. In the fall, more first-time and infrequent voters — those who are more likely to encounter challenges at the polls — will be casting ballots.

Georgia's primary also was expected to draw far higher turnout among Republicans because of the closely contested GOP races for governor, U.S. Senate and secretary of state. The two leading Democratic candidates for governor and U.S. Senate were facing little to no opposition.

"That voters have been able to overcome these restrictions does not change the fact that SB202 places cumbersome, confusing and — in some cases — inhumane barriers to the ballot box," said Sophia Lin Lakin, deputy director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project. "Nothing I have seen so far has changed the fact that Georgia could have celebrated the historic turnout we saw in 2020 and made voting more accessible."

Georgia — along with other states that have held early primaries — has seen a dramatic decline in the use of mailed ballots since the record numbers reported in 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when voters were seeking alternatives to crowded polling places.

Across the state, election officials and voting rights groups reported a few instances of polling locations opening late, minor equipment troubles and some voters finding themselves at the wrong voting location. State election officials said a drawn-out redistricting process gave election offices tight deadlines to ensure that all voters were assigned to their proper precinct.

Voting was being extended at five precincts in Georgia that delayed their morning opening. 

As of Monday, about 72,000 mail ballots had been returned out of nearly 97,000 requested by Georgia voters. About 1,300 applications were rejected for arriving past the new, earlier deadline, or about 1.4% of all applications submitted. Those voters, if able, could still vote in person on Tuesday.