CONYERS — An election process delayed by a pandemic and employing new voting machines unfamiliar to many voters could have been fraught with problems, but Tuesday’s primary balloting went relatively smoothly in Rockdale and Newton counties.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger had cautioned Georgia voters on Monday to expect longer lines and wait times as poll workers implemented safety measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Raffensperger also said voters might take a longer to cast ballots Tuesday while adapting to the state’s new voting machines, which involve touchscreens and scanners that record a paper print-out of a voter’s completed ballot. The machines were used in municipal elections last fall, but Tuesday marked the first time they have been used statewide.

Despite having waited about an hour Tuesday morning to vote at the Newton County Library, Covington resident Michael Jackson said overall he was pleased with the voting experience and the new voting machines. “It’s probably better than the old system,” he said.

Jo Newton, precinct manager at the St. Pius Precinct in Rockdale County, said there was a line of voters first thing Tuesday morning, but by noon voters were walking in with no waiting.

Newton said the precinct was operating 10 voting machines — about the same number they used under the old voting system.

“We’re really not having any issues,” she said, “and the few issues that we have had have been easily resolved.”

In an informal poll of voters on the Citizen Facebook pages, the majority of respondents gave the voting process a positive review.

“Voted at Conyers First United Methodist in Olde Town— it was quick, organized, and totally safe!!” wrote Rockdale resident Samantha Hudgens Swaney.

The number of in-person voters Tuesday was likely reduced by the volume of absentee and early in-person votes received by state elections officials. According to Raffensperger, as of Friday more than 1.2 million Georgians had voted by mail or in advance in-person voting.

Angela Mantle, director of the Newton County Board of Elections & Registration, said her office mailed out 17,647 absentee ballots and received 12,923. Of that number, 7,189 were Democrat, 213 were nonpartisan and 5,521 were Republican.

Mantle said 3,461 advance in-person ballots were cast — 2,160 were Democrat, 27 were nonpartisan, and 1,274 were Republican.

Rockdale issued 14,167 mail absentee ballots, of which 9,219 were returned. Of that number, 6,407 were Democrat, 165 were nonpartisan and 2,647 were Republican.

During the early in-person voting period, 5,515 voters cast a ballot, with the majority of those — 4,665 — voting as Democrats.

With few local contested races on the Republican ballot, Rockdale Republican Party Second Vice Chairman Ken Holmes advised party members to request a Democrat ballot and “vote for who you think would be the best, most conservative candidate to fill the position.” Otherwise, Holmes wrote in a Monday email, “If you pull a Republican ballot your choices are extremely limited and your vote will have no impact in the county’s government.”

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I have been editor of the Rockdale Citizen since 1996 and editor of the Newton Citizen since it began publication in 2004. I am also currently executive editor of the Clayton News Daily, Henry Daily Herald and Jackson Progress-Argus.

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