With early voting coming to a close this Friday, students who voted in DeKalb County and Newton County, where the Emory and Oxford campuses reside, shared their experiences at the polls.

There are 12 early voting polling stations across DeKalb County, compared to Newton County’s two. While both counties encouraged social distancing and mask wearing inside of the polls, there was a lack of proper distance between voters in line at some locations, forcing a decision between sacrificing public health guidelines or casting a ballot. 

Students voting in Newton County faced long lines, with one group of students waiting for nearly four hours before they could vote.

In Newton County, Divya Pereira (22Ox), Muskaan Vohra (22Ox) and Tara Illel (22Ox) drove together to vote at the Board of Elections Office polling station on Oct. 14. They arrived at 7:45 a.m., 15 minutes before the station opened and spent three and a half hours in line. The entire process took four hours, they said. 

“Voter suppression is very apparent in Georgia,” Vohra said. “It’s upsetting to think about how there are people that work or don’t have four hours to waste on a random Wednesday to go vote.”

The long line at the station frustrated voters who couldn’t afford to spend hours of their day waiting. 

“I saw a couple people look at their phone and swear and walk away because they couldn’t stay in line for that long because they had to go to their jobs,” Pereira said. “They were planning on coming back for multiple days to stand in line and wait.”

While in line, the group started up a conversation with a University of Georgia graduate who had moved out to Newton County to live with his father. During the pandemic, he lost his job as a pilot and now plans on moving to Missouri to become a truck driver. This event inspired him to vote for the first time in his life.

“You hear all these stories about how people are affected by this current economy and how COVID affected their lives, but actually talking to someone in person about their struggles was obviously very impactful and really emotional, honestly,” Pereira said. 

Illel, who was born in the U.S. but grew up in Istanbul, Turkey, voted for the first time this year. She said she was surprised by the long line and the lack of COVID-19 safety measures being practiced at the Board of Elections Office.

“It was very frustrating waiting,” Illel said. “Also, they didn’t care about COVID rules at all. Everybody was very near each other in the line.”

After experiencing a four-hour wait, Vohra urged others to consider voting early.

“Definitely just go vote,” Vohra said. “Waiting until Nov. 3 may not be the best option at this point, so I just encourage people to vote.”

Voters line up at the DeKalb County Elections Office to cast their ballot on the first day of early voting. / Isaiah Poritz, Executive Editor

The one commonality between the students who voted in DeKalb County and Newton County was the collective urgency to vote early. 

A Colorado native, Emma Giarracco (22C) switched her voter registration to Georgia and voted early in person in Dekalb County.

“I wanted to vote in Georgia because the races were more of a runoff,” Giarraco said. “I figured my voice had a greater impact in Georgia than I did at home.”

Giarracco voted at the Agnes Scott College (Ga.) polling station on Oct. 16, one of the closest early voting locations to Emory’s Atlanta campus. For her, the entire process took 20 minutes. 

“I went around noon on Friday and there was no line at all,” Giarracco said. “They gave me my paperwork, everyone had masks on. It was super quick, but it wasn’t just like a one button and done situation.”

Danielle Jacoby (23C) also voted at the Agnes Scott polling station on Oct. 12, the first day of early voting. Originally from New York, she decided to vote in Georgia, believing her vote would hold more weight. She waited in line for two hours and described an overall positive experience.

“All of the workers were super helpful, walking around and offering snacks which was really good,” Jacoby said. “Everyone was very nice that we saw there.”

Jacoby said Agnes Scott adhered to COVID-19 safety guidelines, encouraging social distancing and mask wearing. 

In terms of students planning their vote, Giarracco encouraged doing research on the two constitutional amendments on the DeKalb ballot this year.

“Amendments are intentionally confusing,” Giarracco said. “I really think it’s important that you read them, do your own research and then look to leaders who understand the legal language, so that you’re totally informed and you don’t make a mistake because you didn’t understand what was at stake.”

Jacoby stressed that voter participation is critical to the outcome of this year’s election, commenting, “It’s clear that something needs to change, and it’s really important that everyone does their part to change that.”