Voter turnout broke records during the first week of early voting both statewide and in Glynn County, and the trend is likely to continue this week, election officials predict.
By 8 p.m. Friday, 2.7 million ballots had been cast across the state, according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s office. Of those, 1.75 million were cast in person at early voting polls and another 946,753 were mailed in.
Both in-person and mail-in ballots overshadowed the first two weeks of early voting in the 2016 presidential election by a long shot. About 1.06 million ballots had been cast by this same time in 2016, 938,159 in person and 116,764 by mail.
By percentage, that amounts to a 106 percent increase overall, a 48 percent increase in in-person voting and a 645 percent mail-in increase.
Local turnout followed suit. Glynn County residents cast 17,530 total votes as of 4 p.m. Saturday, said Assistant Elections and Registration Supervisor Christina Redden. Exact figures weren’t immediately available, but a little over 7,000 voters used the new Ballard Community Building early voting location on Nimitz Drive. About 6,000 voted on St. Simons Island and 5,000 or so voted in downtown Brunswick.
The Glynn County Board of Elections had received 8,005 absentee-by-mail ballots as of Saturday, Redden said.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger told The News on Friday that his office is expecting around 2.5 million to 3 million people to vote in-person during early voting and close to 1.5 million absentee ballots to be cast before the polls close on election day.
“That would then put us at 4 million before (election day) Tuesday,” Raffensperger said. “Before, we were expecting 2 million to vote on the day of election. Now, 2 million would be a strong election.”
Some of the absentee-by-mail ballots will no doubt be rejected for any number of reasons — around 1 percent of primary ballots were not accepted — Raffensperger said. He is urging voters to be careful when filling out their ballots.
Make sure all dates are correct, addresses are up to date and signatures are signed as usual.
He also noted some may be rejected because of multiple votes in a single race.
“There may be some water and sewer board or other race where you can vote for multiple candidates, but by and large you can only vote for one,” Raffensperger said.
Processing the large number of absentee ballots would have been more difficult for the local board of elections to handle without a relatively new digital database of voter registration information.
Elections officials brought the idea of scanning all physical registration documents into a digital database to the Glynn County Commission in 2018. At the time, just after hurricanes Matthew and Irma brushed the Golden Isles, they were more interested in preserving records in the event of flooding.
“That decision has been a critical reason why we are now able to process the 13,000 ballots we’ve mailed and the 7,000 we’ve already accepted back without excessive cost or backlog,” Redden said. “It was a really significant investment in our county’s elections.”
The county spent $73,008 to hire personnel to do the job, which took a little more than a year. It turned out to be a very good call, said elections board member Keith Rustin, who was in the elections office Friday using the database to verify absentee ballot signatures.
“Before, we would have to dig through our files, which takes a lot more time,” Rustin said. “Now I just look in the database, compare the signatures, and bam!”
On the state level many changes had to be made to similarly accommodate shifts in the voting landscape.
The elections office tried to help local offices by introducing online absentee ballot application and poll worker recruitment portals, both of which were quite successful, Raffensperger said.
“Poll worker recruiting is going to stay because that’s a national issue,” Raffensperger said.
In particular, the online portals proved effective in getting more young people involved, which has the double benefit of getting them engaged in civic service and lowering the average poll worker age. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to protect seniors wherever possible, he said.
Early voting in Glynn County continues through Friday at three locations: the Office Park Building at 1815 Gloucester St. in Brunswick, the Ballard Community Building at 30 Nimitz Drive and on St. Simons Island at Glynn County Fire Station No. 2, 1929 Demere Road.
All three will be open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. today; 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.
All voting precincts will open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Nov. 3.
Measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are in place at all locations.
The local elections board and the Georgia Secretary of State ask all voters to keep a six-foot distance from others and to wear a face mask.
Poll workers will abide by those rules and regularly clean voting equipment.