Georgia, South Carolina, West Virginia, Nevada, and North Dakota all held primaries on Tuesday. While things went smoothly in most of the states, Georgia experienced significant problems including long lines, confusion over new voting equipment, and short staffed polling places . Most of the issues were experienced in the Atlanta metropolitan area.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Georgia has significantly expanded its absentee voting by-mail. As of Sunday, nearly 1 million voters had cast their ballots via mail. Despite the unprecedented number of ballots cast by mail, voters have still turned out in droves to vote in person:
Interesting that the media seems shocked that there are long lines at polling places today. People want to vote in-person. If it’s safe to go to the grocery store and to protest, it’s safe to go to the polls. If in-person opportunities are reduced, lines will result.— Jessica Furst Johnson (@JessFurst) June 9, 2020
Reports of long lines began early on Tuesday morning. Some precincts did not open in time and others ran out of provisional ballots when they could not get the voting machines up and running. Increased safety protocols and precinct closures resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic also contributed to the chaos.
While Democrats continue to blame Republicans for the chaos on election day, they neglect to recognize the crucial role that local elections officials play in the administration of Georgia elections. The areas with the most significant problems are predominantly controlled by Democratic elected officials. In a statement, Georgia GOP Executive Director Stewart Bragg told the press:
The chair of the Fulton County Registration and Elections Board is a Democrat donor and a Democrat primary voter whose failed management has led to long lines, voting machine malfunctions, and scores of other avoidable problems. This unacceptable incompetence will effectively disenfranchise countless eligible voters across Georgia’s largest county. Georgia voters deserve better from their public servants. Frustrated voters in Fulton County should contact their Democratic local elected official and demand change.
By Tuesday afternoon, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced that he would be opening an investigation into the widespread issues reported by voters.
The voting situation today in certain precincts in Fulton and DeKalb counties is unacceptable. My office has opened an investigation to determine what these counties need to do to resolve these issues before November’s election. Obviously, the first time a new voting system is used there is going to be a learning curve, and voting in a pandemic only increased these difficulties. But every other county faced these same issues and were significantly better prepared to respond so that voters had every opportunity to vote.
Georgia House Speaker David Ralston has also opened an investigation.
In response to criticism directed towards the Georgia Secretary of State by local elections officials, Statewide Voting Implementation Manager Gabriel Sterling made a statement on Tuesday night:
[T]raining poll workers and equipping polling places is a responsibility that Georgia law places squarely on the county goes a long way to explain the issues that we saw today . . . See OCGA 21-2-70 (Each superintendent within his or her county shall:… (4) selection and equip polling places…, (8) instruct poll officers and others in their duties, and to inspect systematically and thoroughly the conduct of primaries and elections in the several precincts of his or her county to the end that primaries and elections may be honestly, efficiently, and uniformly conducted). The Secretary of State’s office is tasked with providing training to the superintendents, who then train their poll workers and county election officials. The fact that the egregious issues we are seeing today seem to be limited to a few precincts in a couple counties suggests that the breakdown occurred at the county level. The other 157 counties faced the same difficulties of using a new system and voting during a pandemic, but they seem to have handled the issues that arose diligently and efficiently.
While polls are set to close at 7:00 p.m., voting will likely extend into the night.