Georgia Primary Live Updates: Some Polls Stay Open Later; Finger-Pointing Over Problems Begins
It’s finally Election Day in Georgia, where voters will make their choices in the presidential and general primaries.
More than 1.3 million voters have cast their ballot already through a record-setting mail-in absentee effort and three weeks of early voting.
Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger expects between 250,000 to 400,000 voters will show up to the polls today for the election.
As voting begins at 7 a.m., here is a reminder that Raffensperger and others say there will be longer lines today – even with fewer people.
"Given the constraints of COVID-19, there will be realities we will have to be facing," Raffensperger said Monday. "There will be lines ... this is a new system, there will be a learning curve for both election workers and for voters. All this will take time."
Certain polls in several counties across the state will stay open past the 7 p.m. deadline because of issues throughout the day.
All voting locations in Fulton County will stay open until 9 p.m., per a judge's order. In Cobb County, 19 precincts will stay open until 8 p.m. due to "technical issues that resulted in a late start." According to the secretary of state's office, voters in Chattooga, Chatham, Richhmond, Liberty, Bartow, Morgan, Laurens, Pickens, Gwinnett, Lamar, Douglas and Cherokee will have later closings in some cases.
Check with your local county elections offics for specifics.
In a conference room filled with maps and reports of voting across the state, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said that Georgians should feel confident in the overall performance of the state's election system.
"The counties have been working through most of their issues, and we're hearing now that it's really the backlog from the issues that the counties had early in the morning [that remain]," he said. "So now it's, you know, take care of all the voters who are there, making sure they can vote today and tonight."
By mid-afternoon, there are reports of reduced wait times across the state.
Unlike Fulton and DeKalb, lines in Gwinnett County appear to be moving smoothly. In Athens, GPB found few voting problems.
Meanwhile, stormy weather is creeping into Cobb and Henry counties.
Fulton County has responded to criticism from the secretary of state and House speaker. In a statement from the county legislative delegation, state Rep. David Dreyer (D-Atlanta) and Sen. Jen Jordan (D-Atlanta) wrote, “Despite the finger pointing, there have been failures at all levels.”
Dreyer and Jordan expressed the need for an investigation into the voting problems that have plagued metro Atlanta but condemned state officials for passing blame.
“While there is little doubt that local officials have made mistakes, it is ultimately the role of the Secretary of State to ensure the integrity and efficacy of the voting process.”
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has announced an investigation into Fulton and DeKalb Counties, where much of Georgia’s voting problems have stemmed.
“My office has opened an investigation to determine what these counties need to do to resolve these issues before November’s election,” the statement reads.
Raffensperger pointed to a “learning curve” that has accompanied the implementation of a new voting system but rebuked the voting situations at some metro Atlanta precincts.
But voting issues are not exclusive to Atlanta. In Savannah, elections officials have reported problems with the new voting machines.
The Chatham County Board of Elections plans to extend voting by one hour to alleviate some of the delay caused by equipment problems.
Fulton County is also considering extending voting hours.
As lunchtime rolls around, tensions are rising with the reports of lines and machine errors throughout the morning.
Candidates are calling for polls to be opened past 7 p.m., and voting rights organizations are expressing dismay over lines and other voting problems.
The Democratic Party of Georgia is publicizing its hotline for voters who would like to report issues.
At noon, Maggie Chambers, a spokesperson for the Democratic Party of Georgia, released the following 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. 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.”
The Georgia Republican Party in turn issued a statement accusing the chair of the Fulton County’s Registration and Elections Board, a Democrat, of “unacceptable incompetence.”
“Just hours into Election Day, it has already become painfully apparent that Fulton County’s Democrat leadership is woefully unprepared to conduct today’s primary vote,” Georgia GOP Executive Director Stewart Bragg said.
House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) also announced an investigation into voting issues across the state, but specifically those in Fulton County.
“The sanctity of our elections – being free and fair – is the very foundation of our system of government,” he said in a statement. “Our elections must be efficient and voters must be confident that their votes will be properly counted.”
Ralston also said the legislative branch “has an obligation to go beyond the mutual finger-pointing and get to the truth” about what happened.”
Some voters this morning were exasperated over the delays caused by technical issues at Sandtown Park Recreation Center.
Anita Walker, who had been waiting in line since 6:40 a.m., finished voting at 10:45 a.m.
She and other Fulton residents experienced several problems at the poll.
“At first it wouldn’t take the license, the machine, and then they got past that glitch, and then it wouldn’t cast our ballot,” Walker said. “So then they started using at one point after that paper ballots.”
At 10:45 a.m., more than 145 voters were lined up outside the recreation center.
“I think that the Fulton County Election Board needs to be held accountable. This isn’t the first time that we’ve had issues in Fulton County with voting,” voter Lloyd Mitchell told GPB News.
The secretary of state’s office says that it has not received reports of “actual equipment issues.” Instead, the office pointed to issues in poll workers’ ability to operate the voting machines.
“While these are unfortunate, they are not issues of the equipment but a function of counties engaging in poor planning,” a statement from the office said.
At Cross Keys High School, voting machines are up and working again after almost four hours without functioning machines.
“It seemed that [the poll manager] was almost relieved with the amount of people who walked away,” said Aerialle Klein. “He is being put on the spot and we don’t blame them at all. It’s just that there should’ve been another back-up plan.”
In Macon-Bibb County, Anne White went to the precinct at Northeast High School a little before the polls opened. But even after the clock struck 7 a.m., she and the others in line had to wait.
"We were waiting an hour and 10 minutes before anybody could vote," White said. The ballot marking devices were down from the word go at White's precinct and in at least two others in Bibb County.
"And they were not working when I left after I voted," White said a little after 9 a.m. "They couldn't get the printer to work." White and others voted with emergency paper ballots. "I just, you know, filled in the dots," White said "And as a former schoolteacher, I kept telling everybody 'Be sure you fill in the dots thoroughly because, you know, those machines don't pick up.'"
The emergency ballot White used to vote had the correct slate of candidates for her county commission district. By the time David Quackenbush was ready to vote, voters were being given incorrect ballots for another district.
"And it didn't have any of the Democratic presidential candidates on there," Quackenbush said.
The whole experience was less than confidence inspiring for White. "Next time I'm going to do absentee," she said. "This is a mess."
At DeKalb County’s Cross Keys High School, lines have come to a halting stop. Eight out of 12 poll workers assigned to the location called out today.
The poll’s voting machines have not been working all day and poll workers have run out of provisional ballots.
More than 5,100 voters are assigned to Cross Keys after DeKalb’s elections office combined two precincts.
Voter Karen Cariello, whose absentee ballot was not accepted due to a backlog in the DeKalb elections office, has been waiting in line at the high school since polls opened.
“The machines have been down all morning,” she said. “We called the Democratic hotline. They’re not answering. We called the DeKalb County Board of Elections. They’re not answering. … A group of us organized an email chain in case somebody finds a class action lawsuit. This is either, in my humble opinion, gross incompetence or deliberate voter suppression.”
Poll manager Jonathan Banes, who has been waiting for the county’s technical support all morning, told GPB that the location was equipped with only 20 provisional ballots.
“I have put in several voice messages detailing what we need and what assistance,” Banes said. “No response.”
Markisha Steele, who has been waiting in line for three hours, complained that she had never experienced anything like this before.
Anita Heard, who goes by Nana, is reeling over the voting situation at Cross Keys.
“America has gotten to the point that we are now taking the liberties of people, even voting, from them,” she said. “How can we do this? We’re supposed to be the best, and we have proven ourselves at this time to be worse than any country alive.”
At Lang Carson Community Center in Reynoldstown, GPB News reporter Stephen Fowler waited nearly three and a half hours to vote after arriving at 6:50 a.m.
It took me 205 minutes — 3 hours and 25 minutes — to cast a ballot this morning. 110 people cast ballots in that time at my polling place.
About 110 people voted by 10:15 a.m., with a line zig-zagging for more than a quarter mile through neighborhood streets.
Problems continue to plague Fulton County, including reports of delays caused by poll workers inserting voter access cards upside down.
The secretary of state’s office also said that the county also gave some poll managers incorrect access codes.
State Rep. William Boddie (D-East Point) is calling the situation a “complete meltdown,” the AJC reports.
"Fulton County’s Board of Elections can’t be let off the hook this time,” Boddie said. “It’s inexcusable.”
Within two hours of polls opening, more than 350 people have lined up outside Park Tavern in Atlanta.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and former mayor Kasim Reed are raising concerns over Sandtown Park Recreation Center, a voting location in southwest Atlanta. “They appear to be deliberately slowing down the number of folks who will vote today,” Reed tweeted.
Several voters have abandoned the line at DeKalb County’s Evansdale Elementary School, where machines are still down after briefly working, and other polls as rainy weather threatens to sour an already messy Election Day.
Within an hour and a half, the wait at Park Tavern has multiplied as voters form two separate lines.
Staci Fox, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast, is one of those voters. Despite 16 days of early voting, she chose to vote on Election Day due to its historical significance.
“I like to exercise my vote on the day,” Fox said. “People have died for my right to vote, so I’m never going to let this day pass without voting.”
Latrisha Hernandez, one of the first voters at Park Tavern, experienced several complications while voting. She did not receive an absentee ballot she requested, and when she attempted to vote today, the system said she had already voted, among other issues.
“They didn’t have the password to the system, so we had to sit to the side until they finally had a password to get it reset,” Hernandez said.
To encourage voters waiting in long lines, Carlen Funk is traveling across voting locations in Fulton County to pass out donuts, water and pizza. The money she raises will go directly to Fair Fight Action, a nonprofit voting rights group founded by former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.
Meanwhile, the line at DeKalb County’s Evansdale Elementary School, which is serving three combined precincts for a total of almost 10,000 voters, has come to a standstill. After a brief period where the new voting machines stopped working, the system is up and running again.
Lines are running fairly smoothly at DeKalb County’s Evansdale Elementary School, where three precincts have been combined.
One voter decided to vote on Election Day after witnessing long lines during the early voting period.
“I tried to vote early Friday, but the line was ridiculous, so I got here 45 minutes early to be first in line,” J.P. Vigil said.
Over at Park Tavern, the line has grown by the minute. One voter, Quinnette Rhodes, said she was forced to vote today when Fulton County failed to send her an absentee ballot.
“I should've gotten it by last Friday but I didn't,” Rhodes said.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms tweeted all voting machines in Fulton County’s Ralph Bunche precinct and Sandtown Park Recreation Center were down.
Similar problems are cropping up in DeKalb County.
“If you are in line, PLEASE do not allow your vote to be suppressed,” Bottoms tweeted. “PLEASE stay in line. They should offer you a provisional ballot if the machines are not working.”
The secretary of state’s office is monitoring reports of polling places opening late, problems with voting machines and other issues at the polls.
7 a.m. update
Polls are now open across the state, and large lines are already forming at polling places. In Atlanta, Park Tavern restaurant and event space had nearly 300 people were snaked around the building and parking lot 15 minutes before voting began.
It’s finally Election Day and the line at the polls for Park Tavern — which is preparing to serve 16,000 active voters following a five precinct consolidation — is wrapped around the building and growing 15 minutes before polls open at 7 a.m.
Nearly 16,000 active voters were assigned to cast their ballots there after two other polling places backed out.
In Doraville, about 30 people lined up 6 feet apart outside an elementary school voting location. Health and safety protocols means fewer voters can enter at once, and fewer machines also limit the speed and flow of voting.
Before you head out to vote (or while you wait in line), be sure to read the latest from GPB News and the Georgia News Lab about this primary in a pandemic, including why lines will be longer, where people voted early and how local officials have scrambled to prepare for the election with fewer places to vote and fewer staff.
If you have any questions about voting, see/hear reports of long lines or have other election-related info, email political reporter Stephen Fowler at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter @stphnfwlr.
Follow along with today’s live blog from GPB News and Georgia News Lab reporters across the state. This story will be updated.