Fingers are pointing in multiple directions after a long day of voting in Georgia Tuesday, with another election in the state plagued by voting machine problems and hours-long waits to vote. “If we view the primary election as a dry run for November, then Georgia gets an F today,” said Kristen Clarke of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. With some votes not cast until after midnight, it’s hard to argue that.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, called the problems “unacceptable” while pointing the finger at specific counties and insisting he—the state’s top elections official—bore absolutely no responsibility. Not everyone agreed with that assessment on his part. Raffensperger “owns this disaster,” tweeted Stacey Abrams, the voting rights advocate and former candidate for Georgia governor.
“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. Those Georgians who have been disenfranchised by the statewide chaos that has affected the voting system today in numerous DeKalb precincts and throughout the state of Georgia deserve answers,” said DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond.
The pandemic, of course, complicated things, with many elderly poll workers opting out and forcing precincts to scramble, not always successfully, for enough staff. Some areas also had fewer voting locations, which meant those locations were serving more voters. Then social distancing and cleaning requirements slowed down lines. But those were far from the only problems.
This was Georgia’s first election with a new voting system that sounds unnecessarily complicated even if you subtract reports of problems with the machines. As NBC News describes it, “When voters check in, poll workers give them cards, which they insert into touchscreen machines to cast their votes. The machines then produce paper ballots that voters insert into scanners.” That’s a lot, with each step providing new opportunities for both machine and human error, and it’s not like there aren’t more efficient systems out there that accomplish the same goal of producing a paper trail on votes.
Added to that, at least one precinct didn’t even have machines in place at the time voting was supposed to start.
Fair Fight Action’s Lauren Groh-Wargo detailed the problems in a long Twitter thread—and sounded an alarm about Raffensperger’s plans for voting changes before November. He “chose to move unfunded mandates and massive quantities of mail through counties, rather than ensuring uniformity across the state through the proper resourcing of elections centrally via the state,” she said, and has introduced a bill in the legislature that she said would make the problem worse by dumping more responsibility onto counties rather than taking responsibility in a centralized way at the state level.
”Rather than taking steps to reduce lines, the bill will tell every Georgian that they only get the democracy their county can afford,” Groh-Wargo wrote. “For rural counties or our largest areas, this means we will see a WORSENING of the current problems in GA, where democracy looks different depending on which county you live in.”
Georgia needs to get its act together. Unfortunately, this kind of result, with Black voters disproportionately affected and disenfranchised, is historically just what the Republicans in charge of the state government want.