The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

We waited almost 5 hours to vote in my Georgia precinct. How convenient for Kemp.

When the electronic voting machines in our Atlanta suburb didn’t work, we weren’t exactly surprised.

The line started forming as soon as the polls opened at Annistown Elementary School in Snellville, Ga. It didn't move for hours. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

I woke up at 6:30 a.m. to go to my usual polling place at the Annistown Elementary School, in Snellville, Ga. I follow politics very closely, and with the heavy coverage of the Georgia governor’s race, I was especially excited to participate this year. When I arrived at 7:05 a.m., there were already a couple dozen people ahead of me. All of us were a little surprised at the wait — we’d shown up right when the polls opened, thinking that we would beat the line — but we didn’t think much of it, at first. I’d shown up in my gym clothes, expecting to fit in a workout before my 10 a.m. shift at the television station.

Soon, though, I realized that wasn’t going to happen. In 2016, when my parents and I had come here to vote, we’d waited for about a half-hour, but that line was always in motion. This time, we were at a standstill. They weren’t just having a slow start — something was wrong.

Around 7:45 a.m., the poll workers told us that they were having technical difficulties with the electronic voting system, ExpressPoll, specifically with the machine that checks you in and puts your ballot information onto a card that you take into the voting booth. They’d let us know when they’d resolved the issue. Hearing this, a few people began to walk away, but others encouraged them to stay: This election was too important for their voice not to be heard.

So we settled in. At 8 a.m., I texted my manager to let her know about the situation. At around 8:15 a.m., we were told that voting officials were bringing us a new machine. Two machines arrived at 8:45 a.m. The poll workers tried using those for another 45 minutes until they realized that the issue might actually be with the cards. Someone would have to go to a separate location in Lawrenceville to bring them back, which would take them about an hour. In the meantime, we were offered provisional paper ballots. But when we called the election protection hotline, we were advised against it — we weren’t sure whether those ballots would be counted correctly.

Some of us perched on kiddie-size chairs borrowed from the classrooms, or sat on the floor. A few folks stepped out to take a cigarette break. Around 9 a.m., some even made a Walmart run and brought back juice, water and little snacks. It was the kind of situation where you didn’t have to ask someone to hold your spot — the line wasn’t going anywhere.

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People were frustrated and in disbelief. None of us were exactly surprised, though. Our suburb of Atlanta, Gwinnett County, is a pretty racially mixed area, and had Brian Kemp (R) and Stacey Abrams (D) signs posted everywhere (though it did go for Hillary Clinton in 2016). We’d all been following the news and the problems people were having with registering to vote, or with making sure their names were on the rolls. Just a couple of weeks ago, the county election officials were sued for rejecting absentee ballots. In a way, we were expecting something to go wrong. I overheard other people online, calling this voter suppression. A few cracked jokes about Kemp: How did he expect to run the state as governor if he couldn’t even handle his current job as secretary of state, and make sure the election went smoothly?

Voters encountered long lines due to ballot machine issues and unopened doors at polling places across the country. (Video: Adriana Usero/The Washington Post, Photo: Melina Mara/The Washington Post/The Washington Post)

The officials got back to the school with the cards around 11. Someone else brought in doughnuts. At this point, most of us were determined to stick it out. They were going to make it their business to stay there and vote. Waiting for nearly five hours tested my resolve, but I decided that I was going to make it to the booth no matter what. I wasn’t going to leave, and I wasn’t going to settle for a paper ballot. People lost their lives so that I could make this choice. Technical difficulties weren’t going to get in my way.

I was finally able to vote at 11:45 a.m., and I let my boss know I was on the way. I got changed into professional clothes, and made it into the office. But plenty of people don’t have this kind of flexibility: This morning, I saw maybe 20 or 30 people give up on the line.

Later I heard that three other precincts had problems with the electronic system, and that at another precinct, someone had forgotten to include power cords, so the machines ran out of battery within an hour (though they did get cords brought to them before we got new machines at our location). They ended up extending polling hours at my location, until 9:25 p.m. People worried that Kemp was trying to keep people from voting. Though the issues we faced today might not be the result of his interference, those fears seem valid now.

As told to Post editor Sophia Nguyen.