Failed Voting Machines, Long Lines and Anger Mark Georgia Primary Election

June 9, 2020 by Dan McCue
People wait in a line to vote in the Georgia's primary election at Park Tavern on Tuesday, June 9, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Georgians who overcame concerns about the coronavirus to participate in Tuesday’s primary election encountered long lines, extended waits and a new touch screen voting system that experienced widespread problems.

So bad did the situation become that by mid-morning one lawmaker, state Rep. William Boddie, declared that the voting in Fulton County, which encompasses the city of Atlanta, was in a state of “complete meltdown.”

Making the situation even more remarkable was the fact more than 810,000 Georgians had already voted by mail by the time polls opened on Tuesday, while another 223,000 had opted to take advantage of early in-person voting.

Georgia postponed its primary twice because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Initially, the state’s March 24 presidential primary was moved to May 19; but as virus-related infections and deaths mounted, the vote was pushed back again, to Tuesday.

The mishaps were particularly embarrassing to election officials due to the high-profile nature of the race — Georgia is the only presidential battleground with two competitive Senate races.

Voters will also select party nominees for U.S. House races, for state House and Senate, and other state and local races.

Even before the trouble began, Georgia’s chief election officer, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, warned results could be slow to come in as poll closures and virus restrictions complicate in-person voting and counties work to process a huge increase in ballots received by mail.

On Tuesday, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said via Twitter that voters in line at one of Atlanta’s largest precincts reported all the machines were down.

“This seems to be happening throughout Atlanta and perhaps throughout the county,” she added.

“If you are in line, PLEASE do not allow your vote to be suppressed. PLEASE stay in line. They should offer you a provisional ballot if the machines are not working,” she said.

State Rep. Brodie said he’d heard from other lawmakers who reported problems were occurring in their communities as well.

Among key races Tuesday was a contested Democratic primary for the nomination to challenge Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue, the state’s former governor, who is seeking a second term in November.

Though Perdue had no GOP primary opposition, six Democrats were competing Tuesday for the chance to challenge him.

These included former congressional candidate Jon Ossoff, former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and former lieutenant governor candidate Sarah Riggs Amico. Other Democrats in the race include the former head of ACLU of Georgia, Maya Dillard Smith, Air Force veteran James Knox and Marckeith DeJesus.

If no candidate receives more than 50% of votes, the top two finishers will advance to an Aug. 11 runoff.

The winner of the other seat will be chosen in a special election in November with no primary.

Nikema Williams, the chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Georgia, said in a statement, “So far this Election Day we have received countless reports of widespread voting issues in every corner of the state, and this is not limited to Fulton County or the metro area alone.

“The Secretary of State’s job is to provide adequate support and training for counties as he implemented Georgia’s new voting system, and he has failed,” Williams continued. “Across the state, Georgia voters are waiting for hours to cast their ballots because Georgia’s system is failing them. We demand statewide action by the Secretary of State — the chief elections official in Georgia— to fix this problem immediately before we see these issues for every election this cycle.”

On Friday afternoon, Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, issued a statement that said, “We are seeing the widespread breakdown of elections across Georgia and it is disproportionately affecting Black voters and people of color.

“More than an embarrassment, it does irreparable harm to our democracy,” Bustos continued. “From unimaginably long lines to ballot shortages to malfunctioning machines, these failures were entirely preventable. The Georgia Secretary of State had months to get it right, even after today’s election was delayed twice. Instead, Secretary of State Raffensperger and Georgia Republicans have failed their constituents by refusing to provide Georgia counties with the resources and training they need to conduct this election. This is not how our American democracy should look.”

Nevada, North Dakota, South Carolina and West Virginia were also holding primary elections on Tuesday, without reports of widespread problems.

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