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Georgia Voting Machines Fail on Primary Day, Leaving Voters Frustrated and Officials Calling for Investigations

Maj. Gen. Thomas Carden, Maj. Gen. Joe Jarrard, and Governor Brian Kemp review the troops during the Georgia National Guard change of command ceremony on Clay National Guard Center January 26, 2019. U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Tori Miller.

“It was after 7:30 (a.m.) when we went inside the voting area only to be told the machines were down. We had to use provisional ballots. I filled it out and left it there.”

Tuesday was supposed to be the day for Georgia voters to vote for in primary contests, but technical difficulties reportedly have caused major disruptions, particularly in Atlanta. Machines caused delays and some have not worked at all, according to CNN. Georgia elected officials have called for investigations into the source of the trouble, but for many would-be-voters, the day was a wash as they decided to leave.


“BREAKING NEWS: Voters outraged because they can’t vote. @cbs46vVoting machines are down & systems aren’t working all over #Atlanta,” tweeted CBS 46 reporter Barmel Lyons. “Some people have left the polls because the line has NOT moved since 6 A.M. (a three hour wait at the time of the tweet).”

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and House Speaker David Ralston, both Republicans, ordered investigations, CNN reported.

“The voting situation today in certain precincts in Fulton and DeKalb counties is unacceptable,” Raffensperger, said. “My office has opened an investigation to determine what these counties need to do to resolve these issues before November’s election.”

Atlanta, which falls into both Fulton and DeKalb counties, is Georgia’s most populous city with 479,655 residents.

Election Body Makes Excuses

In the state legislature, Ralston asked the House Governmental Affairs Committee to oversee an inquiry on the issue. The immediate reaction from election officials, however, was that equipment problems were not the source of the problem. Instead, they implicated inexperienced poll workers and coronavirus complications for the trouble.

“We have reports of poll workers not understanding setup or how to operate voting equipment. While these are unfortunate, they are not issues of the equipment but a function of counties engaging in poor planning, limited training, and failures of leadership. Well over 2,000 precincts are functioning normally throughout the state of Georgia,” said Gabriel Sterling, the manager of Georia’s voting implementation.

A worker shortage was also blamed by Robb Pitts, chairman of the Fulton County Board of Commissioners. Most of the workers are older and more susceptible to viruses, and consequently decided to not work the polls this year.

Their accounts, while possibly contributing factors, contradict statements from many Georgia voters who blamed the machines. Monica Hickman told CNN she waited for two hours because 10 machines were inoperable.

“It was after 7:30 (a.m.) when we went inside the voting area only to be told the machines were down. We had to use provisional ballots. I filled it out and left it there,” Hickman said. “When it’s time to vote, everything should work properly because we’re living in critical times and this is one of the ways our voices can be heard.”

Vote-by-Mail Encouraged

While some states have resisted vote-by-mail initiatives, Georgia has tried to facilitate absentee ballots in anticipation of voting issues. The state received 1.2 million absentee ballots before the election, 30 times the average number, according to CNN.

In advance of the primary contests, Raffensperger said the state would mail ballots to 7 million voters and that his office felt comfortable that it could mitigate “isolated instances of fraud,” which has been given as a reason by some states and President Donald Trump for resisting vote-by-mail, The Hill reported.

“I can see why people would be concerned how the absentee ballot system is used if there are no guardrails, no rules,” Raffensperger said. “And so we’re trying to have a structure in place where everyone is treated fairly, with honest elections and the appropriate guardrails in place.”

However, even with vote-by-mail, the state ran into difficulties. Numerous voters in Fulton County reported they had not received their absentee ballots, prompting an investigation by Raffensperger’s office.

“Fulton County made several unwise decisions that we would not have made … and I think that’s unacceptable,” he said. “We opened an investigation into that and other matters. … But by and large, all the other counties worked through their issues and got the absentee ballots out, so it stands as an outlier and it’s very unfortunate.”

Close Races For Every Seat

The state is battleground this year as both of its Senate seats are up for grabs, one of which will not have a primary in lieu of a special election in November. The special election is for the seat formerly held by Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson who retired in 2019 due to health issues. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp appointed Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler to fill his seat until the special election and she will be on the ballot alongside her challengers.

For the November general election, polls conducted by Civiqs and aggregated by FiveThirtyEight depict tight races for the senate seats. Recent polling on the presidential candidates, Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, is also nearly tied in the state with Biden edging out the president 48% to 47%. 

In 2016, Trump won a narrow majority of the popular vote, 50.44% to Hillary Clinton’s 45.35%. The state has not chosen a Democratic president since Bill Clinton in 1992, which was also the last year it elected a Democratic senator.

Daniel Davis

Daniel Davis is Managing Editor for The Osage County Herald-Chronicle in Kansas and also covers International news for Inside Over, a Milan-based global affairs publication. He graduated in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. Outside of writing, he enjoys photography and one day hopes to return to video production. Learn more about him at his website danieldavis.la.

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