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Short lines, minimal delays and high tensions: Scenes from Hall County precincts on Election Day 2020
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About 20 voters wait in line shortly before polls open at the Pleasant Hill Baptist Church voting precinct in West Hall on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. - photo by Thomas Hartwell

Just as the sun began to rise on Tuesday morning, lines of eager voters stacked up at polling locations across Hall County. But throughout the day, lines were not long in Hall County and the election process was smooth. At least one poll worker reported things were busier during early voting.  

Turnout was not available as of 9 p.m. Tuesday, but 53,382 had voted early. As of Friday, 19,795 absentee ballots had been cast. Absentee ballots were accepted up until 7 p.m. Tuesday. 

Katie Crumley, a spokeswoman for the county, told The Times around 1 p.m. Tuesday that 5,065 voters had cast ballots between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. Crumley said polling locations are typically busier early in the morning as voters head to work, around lunch time and after 5 p.m. She also said she hadn't heard of any technical issues or delays of note.  As of 2 p.m., 9,567 people had voted in person, according to Lori Wurtz, Hall County's elections director.

Polls closed at 7 p.m. Tuesday, with all closing on time with the exception of the East Hall Community Center, which closed a few minutes late while voters finished casting their ballots. 

Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, West Hall

Dian Hatfield, poll manager at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, said she and other poll workers couldn’t predict what turnout would be like later in the day, as they didn’t know what percentage of their precinct may have already voted absentee or during early voting. But, she said, the morning had started smoothly. 

“We just want to provide the service as fast and timely as we can — efficiently,” Hatfield said.  

The poll manager said poll workers would be putting emphasis on ensuring that voters see their votes tabulated. The state’s new voting machines, which debuted in this year’s primary elections, print a sheet of paper that shows the voters' selections, as well as a barcode to be scanned by a tabulation machine. 

“We make them watch the counter on the tabulator, and we say, ‘Do not leave until you see that. That way you know you’re vote is counted,” Hatfield said.  

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Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, one of 31 voting precincts in Hall County during the Nov. 3, 2020, presidential election. - photo by Thomas Hartwell
She said the reason for the practice is two-fold. First, the machines may still be new to voters who did not vote in the primaries or who still haven’t gotten used to them. Second, with frequent discussion around voter security this election season, the poll workers want to instill confidence in voters that their ballot is secure. 

“We’re just doing everything we can to keep people happy and combat fake news,” Hatfield said, adding that candidates for office have riled voters through the media. “It’s created whatever discontent that we have.” 

Andrew Dennis, who said he lived down the road from the West Hall voting precinct, was one of about 20 who stood in line as poll workers prepared check-in stations inside. Dennis told The Times he’d come early to cast his ballot before heading to work. 

The 28-year-old financial analyst said he’d voted in past presidential elections but called this year’s “crazy.” 

“They’re always crazy, but I don’t know, I guess it’s more divided (now),” he said. “But I guess that’s just where the country’s at right now. … I think we need to take a step back and see that we’re really not that far apart. It seems to be portrayed that we’re a lot farther apart than we actually are.” 

Dennis said both the media and Americans themselves were to blame for the perceived political divide in the country. But, he said, this election could break voter turnout records, adding “that’s great if it does.” 

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Steven Salter casts his vote on one of the state's new voting machines at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in West Hall on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. - photo by Thomas Hartwell

Steven Salter, a 35-year-old contractor, echoed Dennis, saying that claims that the country is more divided now than ever have been overblown. Salter said the country may be slightly more divided than during previous elections, but “hopefully it’ll calm down after the election.” 

With a laugh, Salter said, for now, he’ll steer clear of political conversations with friends and family. 

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As she left Pleasant Hill, Elizabeth Alley, 68, told The Times she expected there to be a long wait in line, but her voting experience was quick and smooth. 

Alley said she’d voted to re-elect President Donald Trump, because she believed him to be the only candidate who can “keep this country strong,” though she added with a laugh, “I wish he’d shut his (Twitter) off.” 

She also noted that she’d voted Democrat in the past —specifically, for Jimmy Carter — but the party isn’t what it used to be. 

Others who The Times spoke with either declined to share who they voted for or were not allowed because of their proximity to the polling location. 

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Mark Overby checks in at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, a voting precinct in West Hall, on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. - photo by Thomas Hartwell
Alley said she likes Trump because he “stood up for a lot of people,” in his first four years, including veterans and the country as a whole. 

“He’s not a politician, but I think that’s what we need in there,” she said. “Nobody else cuts it — not for me.” 

Unlike the others, Alley said she was confident but anxious about the outcome of the election. She said it wasn’t necessarily the election results that worried her but what will happen after those results are confirmed. 

“I’m 68 years old, and it’s never been like this,” she said. “I’m afraid of riots and stuff like that. That’s what worries me. It’s sad.”  

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Shatoria Evans, poll manager at the Fair Street Neighborhood Center voting precinct near downtown Gainesville, works through an issue early in the day on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. - photo by Thomas Hartwell

Fair Street Neighborhood Center, Gainesville 

At the Fair Street Neighborhood Center voting precinct, near downtown Gainesville, Poll Manager Shatoria Evans said her location had opened up without a hitch at 7 a.m., but about an hour later ran into minor issues.  

Evans said voters brought absentee ballots to the in-person voting location, and cancellation of those absentee ballots delayed some voters by 15 to 20 minutes as workers had to call the main elections office. There was also a brief translation issue for a couple of Spanish-speaking voters, who needed help operating the voting machines. 

Evans also pointed out that, of the 15 poll workers at the Fair Street location next door to Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School, 11 were brand-new. 

“For some of them, I did encourage them to do some of the early voting, because that’s the best training,” she said. “Some of them did not, so this is their first time being in here.” 

Nevertheless, voters who spoke with The Times reported short wait times and a smooth process. 

Like Hatfield, Evans also said the poll workers would be encouraging voters to watch their vote tabulated and said it’s difficult to determine what turnout will be like on Election Day. 

But, she said, “It’s steady. It’s not as busy as I was thinking, but it’s good.” 

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A voter casts a ballot on one of the state's new voting machines at the Fair Street Neighborhood Center on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. - photo by Thomas Hartwell
For Aaliyah Brumfield, this year’s presidential election was the first time she’d been able to vote. She said the process was smooth, though she couldn’t compare voting on the new machines to the machines that were previously used. 

Brumfield, a freshman at Georgia State University, called this election season’s politics “touchy.”  

“It’s like, whatever side you pick, you labeled, and I don’t really like that, because it just brings us more apart,” she said.  

Like Alley, Brumfield said she worries what will happen after the election.  

“I don’t think it matters who wins the election. I definitely think there’s going to be a lot of anger from some side,” she said. “You hate to hear about it. Me and my mom have already prepared to stay inside. We don’t want to go outside, just in case, because you never know. It’s sad that we have to take those precautions.” 

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Aaliyah Brumfield, 18, told The Times on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, that she would stay inside as she awaited the results of the presidential election. "I definitely think there's going to be a lot of anger from some side," she said. - photo by Thomas Hartwell

Brumfield said she’d voted for former Vice President Joe Biden in the presidential race. She said she liked his health care platform and that he is LGBTQ-friendly, a group with which she said she identifies.  

“Watching Trump, it’s just a lot of the things he says and (the ways) he acts, I don’t really stand by,” she said, noting that she’s not completely happy with Biden either. Biden, she said, is the lesser of two evils. 

Brumfield said her voting process was smooth, and she was in and out in five minutes. 

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Fair Street Neighborhood Center, near downtown Gainesville, one of 31 voting precincts on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. - photo by Thomas Hartwell

The Venue at Friendship Springs, Braselton 

Standing more than 150 feet from The Venue at Friendship Springs polling location in Braselton, Robert Wood waved a large flag, depicting the American flag on one side and a Trump banner on the other. 

During elections, campaign signs, flags, discussions and even political T-shirts are not allowed within 150 feet of any polling location. 

Wood’s family members stood by his side as he proudly displayed his support of the president. Wood said he hoped to inspire others to vote for the right reasons. 

“I just disagree with the Democratic Party,” he said. “A major issue with me is abortion, unlimited abortion. That’s what they stand for, and fossil fuel. They want to eliminate that.” 

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Robert Wood, left, and his 7-year-old grandson, Evan Murrer, proudly display their support of President Donald Trump more than 150 feet away from a polling location in Braselton on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. - photo by Kelsey Podo

Wood’s grandson, 7-year-old Evan Murrer, stood beside his grandfather holding another massive Trump flag. Evan said he agreed with Wood’s support of Trump, “because he’s cool.” 

Patricia Promise, the polling manager for the Braselton location, said during the first four hours the polls were open at The Venue at Friendship Springs, around 300 people had come through to vote.  

“We opened up on time, and we got everybody in real fast,” she said. “We had about 50 people lined up (before the polls opened). We’ve had no issues.” 

TaKisha Adger, a polling officer at the Braselton location, said so far, there hasn’t been a wait time for anyone.  

“I did early voting, which was a much bigger crowd,” she said.  

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Braselton residents show their support of President Donald Trump, making sure to stand more than 150 feet away from the local polling location on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. - photo by Kelsey Podo

Oakwood Family YMCA 

Bob Belair, polling manager at the Oakwood Family YMCA, said his voting location saw the same easy flow of voters. 

“Thirty seconds was the longest wait time,” he said. “This morning there was about 20 people (before the polls opened).” 

Charlotte Jackson, who voted with her daughters around 11:30 a.m., said the Oakwood location was the “shortest poll” she had ever seen in her life. 

“I expected to be in line for a couple of hours,” she said.  

Jackson, who is from The Bahamas, said her mother instilled in her the significance of voting, and she wanted to do the same with her young daughters.  

“Especially as a Black person in America, it’s more important for you to vote,” Jackson said. “People died for you to be able to vote in America.” 

Dena Longstreet, of Oakwood, said she helped inspire her 23-year-old twin daughters to volunteer as polling officers at the Oakwood Family YMCA. She said Americans have a duty to vote, and she hopes to teach her kids that. 

“You can’t tell them how to vote,” Longstreet said. “But we can at least teach them that voting is important, not just for the presidential, but for all elections.” 

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Charlotte Jackson, left, walks out of the Oakwood Family YMCA after voting with her two daughters, Tahila Jackson, middle, and Thomya Jackson, right, on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.

First Baptist Church of Lula 

Before First Baptist Church of Lula opened to voters at 7 a.m., around 30 people were lined up, ready to vote, according to Jasmine Young, the location’s poll manager. At about 12:30 p.m., the crowd had thinned out, with no wait time. 

“It seemed that is was about the same at other precincts,” Young said. “We’ve been doing great here. I think having the officer here has been helpful. Everybody has followed the rules.” 

Boxes of pizza, donated by the First Baptist Church of Lula, awaited people who finished voting around lunchtime. Craig Broome, associate pastor of the congregation, said his church volunteered its building to help accommodate the crowds of voters. During other elections, he said residents would congregate at Lula City Hall. 

“In 2016, we were all wrapped around the building,” he said.  

Rhondalyn Coston of Alto, said Tuesday marked her first time serving as a poll officer.  

“It’s exciting because you get to talk to different people,” she said. “I can’t wait to vote because I haven’t voted yet.” 

Reporters Kelsey Podo and Megan Reed contributed.