Heat, rain, long lines: Georgia election plagued by problems

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People vote at voting booths in the Georgia's primary election at Park Tavern on Tuesday, June 9, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

ATLANTA – Voters endured heat, pouring rain and waits as long as five hours on Tuesday to cast ballots in Georgia, demonstrating a fierce desire to participate in the democratic process while raising questions about the emerging battleground state's ability to manage elections in November when the White House is at stake.

“It’s really disheartening to see a line like this in an area with predominantly black residents,” said Benaiah Shaw, a 25-year-old African American, as he cast a ballot in Atlanta.

A confluence of events disrupted primary elections for president, U.S. Senate and dozens of other contests. There were problems with Georgia’s new voting machines, which combine touchscreens with scanned paper ballots. The polls were staffed by fewer workers because of coronavirus concerns. A reduced workforce contributed to officials consolidating polling places, which disproportionately affected neighborhoods with high concentrations of people of color. Long lines were also reported in whiter suburban areas.

Some voters said they requested mail-in ballots that never arrived, forcing them to go to polling places and adding to the lines. Turnout, meanwhile, may be higher than expected as voters said they were determined to exercise their constitutional right after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the ensuing demonstrations that swept cities including Atlanta.

“Too many people died for me to have this opportunity,” said Stephanie Bush, a 49-year-old black independent voter in Atlanta. “So for me not to stick it out would be a dishonor to them.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden easily won the state's Democratic presidential primary. He was facing no real opposition but hoped to post a strong showing among Georgia's diverse electorate to show his strength heading into the general election.

But the developments were troubling heading into the fall presidential campaign, which will attract even more voters. Biden and President Donald Trump are expected to fiercely compete in this rapidly changing state. That leaves officials, who have already been criticized for attempting to suppress the vote, with less than five months to turn things around.

Republican leaders blamed the meltdowns on officials in Fulton and DeKalb counties, which are Democratic strongholds with significant black populations.