The long-standing wrangle over voting rights and election security came to a head in Georgia, where a messy primary and partisan finger-pointing offered an unsettling preview of a November contest when battleground states could face record record turnout.
Many Democrats blamed the Republican secretary of state for hourslong lines, voting machine malfunctions, provisional ballot shortages and absentee ballots failing to arrive in time for Tuesday’s elections. Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential campaign called it “completely unacceptable”.
Georgia Republicans deflected responsibility to metro Atlanta’s heavily minority and Democratic-controlled counties, while President Donald Trump’s top campaign lawyer decried “the chaos in Georgia”.
It raised the specter of a worst-case November scenario: A decisive state, like Florida and its “hanging chads” and “butterfly ballots” in 2000, remaining in dispute long after polls close. Meanwhile, Trump, Biden and their supporters could offer competing claims of victory or question the election’s legitimacy, inflaming an already boiling electorate.
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‘A lot to lose’
Adia Josephson, a 38-year-old Black voter in the Brookhaven area just outside Atlanta, waited more than two hours to vote but was not about to let the long lines stop her.
“Problems with voting machines and long lines must be corrected before the next election,” she told The Associated Press news agency. “There’s no room for error,” she said. “There’s a lot to gain and a lot to lose.”
The last voter in Georgia cast a ballot 5 hours and 37 minutes after polls were supposed to have closed. And then the police were called. This is America in 2020 https://t.co/FORe8Fzn9H
– Ari Berman (@AriBerman) June 10, 2020
At Trump’s campaign headquarters, senior counsel Justin Clark blamed Georgia’s vote-by-mail push amid the COVID-19 pandemic, alluding to the president’s unfounded claims that absentee voting yields widespread fraud.
A ‘threat to democracy
“The American people want to know that the results of an election accurately reflect the will of the voters,” Clark said. “The only way to make sure that the American people will have faith in the results is if people who can, show up and vote in person.”
Rachana Desai Martin, a Biden campaign lawyer, called the scenes in Georgia a “threat” to democracy. “We only have a few months left until voters around the nation head to the polls again, and efforts should begin immediately to ensure that every Georgian – and every American – is able to safely exercise their right to vote,” she said.
Martin stopped short of assigning blame, but two Georgia Democrats on Biden’s list of potential running mates pointed at Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who led the selection of Georgia’s new voting machine system and invited every active voter to request an absentee ballot.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms tweeted at Raffensperger about problems in pockets of Metro Atlanta. “Is this happening across the county or just on the south end,” the Democrat asked, referring to an area with a heavily Black population.
Stacey Abrams, the 2018 Democratic nominee for governor and an Atlanta resident, said: “The blame rests solely and squarely on the shoulders of the secretary of state.” Abrams established herself as a voting rights advocate after she refused to concede her 2018 race because of voting irregularities when her Republican opponent, now-Governor Brian Kemp was secretary of state.
“Georgia has seen this before,” Abrams told CBS This Morning on Wednesday. “Yesterday was the most egregious example.”
Voting rights groups, including Abrams’ Fair Fight Action, said Georgia’s experiences justify their efforts to combat what they describe as a coordinated GOP push to restrict ballot access. Fair Fight, Priorities USA and American Bridge this week announced a Voter Suppression Watch partnership.
Absentee ballot mystery: Georgia says 96% of ballots that were requested were delivered. Voters and local officials report many people did not receive them so they showed up in person. Vendor used by state says they sent out 100% of ballots. What happened? No one seems to know
– Abby D. Phillip (@abbydphillip) June 10, 2020
“Trump is already trying to extend this culture war by creating fear around vote-by-mail,” said Aneesa McMillan of the Priorities political action committee. She noted the Republican National Committee’s plans to recruit thousands of poll watchers now that the GOP is no longer under a court order banning the practice that Democrats equate to voter intimidation.
“We have to learn our lessons, not just from Georgia, and protect the entire process,” McMillan said.