Voting in Georgia’s primary elections Tuesday was plagued with technical difficulties and hours-long lines that disproportionally affected urban areas and communities of color.
Delays with voting in the state occurred because of poll workers’ inadequate training on the new voting machines, precincts being closed because of the pandemic, and social distancing and disinfecting practices. Areas with more Black voters reported the worst problems with voting.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, sent absentee ballot applications to nearly seven million voters, and more than one million Georgians voted by absentee ballot.
However, many people were unable to vote absentee, including 2018 gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who lost by a thin margin in an election many criticized for voter suppression. Abrams also later founded Fair Fight, a voting rights group.
Abrams said she requested an absentee ballot in May but the return envelope was sealed. She could not steam it open to return her ballot by mail. A significant number of voters also reported that their ballot never arrived despite Raffensperger’s office’s claim that 96% of ballots requested were delivered.
The voting problems were preventable, according to Abrams.
“It is a disaster that was preventable,” Abrams said. “It is emblematic of the deep systemic issues we have here in Georgia. One of the reasons we are so insistent upon better operations is that you can have good laws, but if you have incompetent management and malfeasance, voters get hurt, and that’s what we see happening in Georgia today.”
Critics across the political spectrum blame the problems on the Georgia Secretary of State’s use of new machines, which had a $107 million price tag. The conservative group FreedomWorks and the ACLU of Georgia had warned long before the pandemic hit that the new voting system was difficult to set up and training for poll workers was inadequate.
Polling sites issued provisional ballots for those unable to vote on the machines but those ballots quickly ran out amid high voter turnout.
Raffensperger accepts no responsibility for the voting problems and blames issues on poll workers but local officials say otherwise. In DeKalb County, Atlanta, CEO Michael Thurmond said it was the Secretary of State’s duty to ensure staff was adequately trained for the new machines.
“If there was a failure of leadership, it starts where the buck should stop, at the top. The eradication of any ‘learning curve’ rests squarely at the feet of the Georgia secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, and his office,” Thurmond said. “It is the Secretary of State’s responsibility to train, prepare and equip election staff throughout the state to ensure fair and equal access to the ballot box.”
Sources: The New York Times 06/09/20; The New York Times 06/09/20; The Atlanta Journal-Constitution 06/09/20; The Atlanta Journal-Constitution 06/08/20; CNN 06/09/20