Georgia election chaos could have been avoided

Georgia has been shaken in recent months by the vigilante-style death of Ahmaud Arbery and the threat of COVID-19. But its voters couldn’t have imagined the calamity it faced Tuesday, June 9 when they went out to vote or tried to secure absentee ballots.

Alarm bells have been sounded in Georgia’s presidential primary and down-ballot elections as state and local officials reacted to the chaos as voters faced long lines and confusion as they attempted to cast their votes in-person. As of Tuesday evening, three-quarters of the calls received on the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law’s 866-OUR-VOTE hotline came from African-American voters.

Georgia’s secretary of state and the governor could have deployed resources to provide a smoother and more seamless voting experience for its citizens during Tuesday’s Election Day. In recent years, state officials have been charged with discriminatory voter purges, widespread polling place closures, and selective signature match requirements harming Black and low-income voters most.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said in a statement:

“The voting situation [yesterday]  in certain precincts in Fulton and Dekalb counties is unacceptable. My office has opened an investigation to determine what these counties need to do to resolve these issues before November’s election. Obviously, the first time a new voting system is used there is going to be a learning curve, and voting in a pandemic only increased these difficulties. But every other county faced these same issues and were significantly better prepared to respond so that voters had every opportunity to vote.”

“Georgia’s election was a complete catastrophe,”said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Malfunctioning equipment, long lines, poll sites that opened late, insufficiently trained poll workers and paper ballot shortages resulted in a day of chaos for voters seeking to exercise their voice. If we view the primary election as a dry run for November, then Georgia gets an F. Georgia delayed its primary election to give itself enough time to get it right. But none of their solutions appear to have worked. The state must undertake aggressive action now to ensure preparedness for far higher turnout levels in November.”

Clarke continued, “Based on our assessment, many of the problems that unfolded in the primary election had a starker impact on Black voters. These problems proved disastrous for voters who sought to participate in the election.”

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law successfully issued pre-litigation demand letters to officials in Fulton, Cobb and DeKalb Counties, Georgia urging that officials voluntarily take action to extend poll hours. A similar letter was issued to officials in Gwinnett County who failed to respond. The Lawyers’ Committee filed emergency litigation in Gwinnett County and obtained an extension of poll hours through 9 pm.

More importantly, Georgia must fix these problems before November’s national and state elections.

Problems like:

  • Can truly provide vote by mail for every citizen in the state who requests it;
  • Can open every polling place on time;
  • Should make available provisional ballots when voting systems fail; and
  • Assessing how much in financial resources will be needed to provide a safe and open election in your state and if the state cannot provide those funds, then request more from their federal representatives.

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