Georgia’s pandemic primary was a disaster. Experts fear the state can be still vulnerable to a repeat.

This particular was not what she had planned.

This particular was the final day to vote. To avoid crowds as well as the coronavirus, Mullen had tried to mail in a ballot. however after she made several attempts to contact Fulton County officials as well as even the secretary of state’s office to correct a discrepancy with her mailing address, her ballot never arrived.

The doors opened at 7 a.m., however 30 minutes passed, then an hour, then two hours. Still, the line had barely moved. After nearly four hours inside Atlanta heat as well as off-as well as-on rain, Mullen was finally able to cast her ballot — “just tired as well as worn out.”

“as well as as bad as I felt, I felt more so for additional people,” Mullen says at This particular point.

People waited in hours-long lines to vote during Georgia's primary election on June 9, 2020. Election officials blamed a perfect storm triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Indeed, the situation faced by many voters was far worse — particularly inside Atlanta area. Voters faced eight-hour lines. Hundreds of voters in Fulton County never received absentee ballots they had requested. as well as polling places in 18 counties — including many outside metro Atlanta — were forced to stay open late to accommodate everyone who was already waiting when polls closed.
As the Covid-19 pandemic exploded inside US, dozens of states held primary elections. Perhaps none went as badly awry as the June 9 vote in Georgia — as well as the long lines which appeared again inside first days of early voting for the general election This particular week were a sign which history might be repeating.
Voting rights have long been an issue in Georgia, as well as at This particular point demographic alterations have turned This particular into a battleground state. A competitive presidential race as well as two Senate races which could determine the chamber’s balance of power have placed the state’s election infrastructure squarely under the microscope.

The problems inside primary have only fed distrust as well as anger over barriers to voting which still exist in Georgia. as well as with the secretary of state’s office saying This particular expects heavy turnout again on November 3, plus a fresh voting system in use statewide, some fear Georgia can be at risk of another election meltdown.

Finger-pointing gives way to some fixes

inside aftermath of the June 9 debacle, there was no shortage of finger-pointing.

Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger blamed the counties, which are in charge of the nuts as well as bolts of putting on elections. Fulton County elections officials said they felt overwhelmed by the turnout as well as an unprecedented onslaught of absentee ballots.

All pointed to a perfect storm of events triggered by Covid-19.

Polling precincts as well as poll workers backed out due to concerns over the virus. Fulton County lost around a quarter of its polling places, as well as roughly 6 out of every 7 of its poll workers, according to Rick Barron, the county’s elections director.

as well as with in-person training for poll workers suspended, the ones who remained had little experience with the fresh voting machines which the state purchased in 2019, he said.

Fulton County -- Georgia's most-populated county, which includes most of Atlanta -- saw some of the longest lines during the June primary, however has made significant alterations inside hopes of preventing  another Election Day fiasco.

“We weren’t able to train any poll workers in person having a brand-fresh voting system before the June election,” said Barron. “which was a huge issue.”

inside months since, the secretary of state’s office as well as the counties have worked to ramp up capacity to process absentee ballot applications as well as push voters to utilize early voting sites. In Fulton County, the goal can be to get 80% of the county’s registered voters to vote absentee or in early voting before November 3, inside hopes which they can ward off another overwhelming Election Day crush at the polls.

On Election Day, Fulton County will have 255 polling precincts open, a big jump via the 164 sites which were open on June 9. as well as the county says This particular has received more than 6,000 applications via prospective poll workers, with 3,000 hired so far to work on November 3.

Though Fulton County has seen its share of early voting lines — plus a technical glitch which briefly halted voter check-in at its massive State Farm Arena site — neighboring Gwinnett County has experienced some of the state’s longest wait times so far.

On the first day of early voting, the county saw waits as long as eight hours at one location as well as six hours at several more, according to Gwinnett County communications director Joe Sorensen.

People wait in line on the first day of early voting for the general election at the C.T. Martin Natatorium as well as Recreation Center in Atlanta.

Long lines in early voting aren’t the same as on Election Day. Since voters can choose to vote at any location inside county where they’re registered in early voting, large numbers converging on one site can create long lines, unlike on Election Day, where voters are spaced out as well as can vote only at their assigned precincts.

However, the secretary of state’s office said the sluggish performance of an online system used to pull up as well as verify voters’ registration information was also contributing to some of the long lines seen around the state.

At a news conference Wednesday, Raffensperger said his office was working with the vendor to raise the system’s bandwidth doing sure which This particular can handle the huge number of voters ​expected for the remainder of This particular cycle.

By Thursday morning, Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs said she had spoken with several counties as well as so far the fix seems to have worked.

Still, there are additional concerns about the state’s complex fresh voting system.

Georgia election law requires which This particular can be up to the individual counties to run their own elections, a point Secretary of State Raffensperger’s office has made frequently inside wake of June’s election debacle.

however what the counties do not have control over are the machines voters will be using to cast their ballots.

The arrival of BMDs

Those machines — called ballot marking devices (BMDs) — were purchased by the state in 2019 for more than $100 million via Denver-based Dominion Voting Systems.

Though additional states as well as counties use BMDs, Georgia can be the only state which uses the Dominion systems statewide, according to the nonpartisan election technology tracking organization Verified Voting.

The machines feature large touch screens, which voters tap to mark their ballots. Once a voter’s choices have been made, the completed ballot can be printed out having a QR code which can be encoded with the choices, which can be finally fed through a scanner to record the votes.

Georgia's fresh ballot marking device voting system was purchased by the state in 2019 for more than $100 million.

which system of touch screens, printers as well as scanners was the subject of a sprawling lawsuit filed inside Northern District of Georgia in which plaintiffs claimed which the BMDs are insecure as well as prone to technical malfunctions as well as do not allow voters to visually verify which the BMD has in fact marked their ballots as they intended.

On the eve of the beginning of early voting, Judge Amy Totenberg denied the plaintiffs’ request to switch the entire state via using BMDs to hard-marked paper ballots, ruling which a change of which magnitude so close to the start of voting risked throwing the election into chaos.

Still, Totenburg’s ruling contained harsh words about the reliability as well as security of Georgia’s BMD system.

In conclusion, Totenberg wrote, “Plaintiffs’ challenge to the State of Georgia’s fresh ballot marking device QR barcode-based computer voting system as well as its scanner as well as associated software presents serious system security vulnerability as well as operational issues which may place Plaintiffs as well as additional voters at risk of deprivation of their fundamental right to cast an effective vote which can be accurately counted.”

In response to the judge’s ruling, Fuchs said, “Activists should not decide policy through a legal forum as well as no one should let them. as well as there can be already a process in place through the General Assembly to allow the public activists as well as our representatives to decide policy related to elections.”

Fuchs also says which as record numbers of Georgians have descended on the polls inside first week of early voting, no equipment malfunctions have been reported to her office so far, additional than one printer which was jamming.

In response to emailed questions about the reliability of the state’s BMDs, Dominion Vice President for Government Affairs Kay Stimson said, “Implementing a fresh, statewide voting system across all of Georgia’s 159 counties in a major presidential election year could have been challenging even without the Covid-19 pandemic, which has disrupted training efforts as well as left some counties with significant poll worker shortages. ”

Stimson added which Dominion can be recruiting as well as training 3,000 service technicians to deploy across Georgia should issues arise on November 3.

Fulton County elections director Rick Barron speaks at a press conference unveiling one of the two mobile voting units which will be roaming the county during the early voting period.

however election administration experts have concerns which the state’s counties do not have adequate backup plans for a worst-case scenario on Election Day — i.e., a widespread voting machine outage.

Georgia election rules require which precincts keep enough paper ballots on hand for 10% of the voters assigned to each location, doing sure which inside event of a technical malfunction, voters can still cast ballots while problems are addressed.

Fulton County’s Rick Barron said This particular will go above the 10% requirement as well as will stock enough paper ballots for 20% of voters on Election Day.

However, an analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice — a nonpartisan law as well as policy institute — found which even which could not be enough should a major outage occur during peak voting hours.

“which’s my biggest concern by far: can be there an adequate backup plan?” said Larry Norden, the director of the Brennan Center’s Election Reform Program. “I do think which Georgia has been doing a lot of things to improve via the debacle of the primaries — particularly the Atlanta-area counties — however I don’t think they’ve done enough to be ready just for This particular fall.”

A fresh battleground state

Georgia has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since Bill Clinton in 1992. however recent election results have shown which the state can be no longer the deep shade of red This particular once was.

In 2016, Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by just over 211,000 votes in Georgia, however Trump’s margin of victory was more than 97,000 votes tighter than Mitt Romney’s over Barack Obama four years earlier.

Then came 2018’s competitive as well as contentious gubernatorial race.

Stacey Abrams lost to at This particular point-Governor Brian Kemp in a 2018 gubernatorial race which was centered around the fight over voting rights.
Stacey Abrams, who was vying to become the country’s first Black female governor, lost to Brian Kemp by just 1.4 percentage points.

At the time, Kemp was Georgia’s secretary of state, as well as the state’s top elections official overseeing an election in which he was a candidate drew outrage via Abrams as well as her allies.

“This particular’s not until you get into a actually close election which all of those things come into sharp relief, because they start to impact the margin of victory for candidates,” said Lauren Groh-Wargo, the former campaign manager for Stacey Abrams, who can be at This particular point the CEO of Fair Fight, the voting rights organization which Abrams founded.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp drew the ire of Democrats when he ran for governor while also overseeing the election as the state's top elections official.

Though Abrams ultimately ended her bid for governor, the race cemented Georgia as a focal point inside national battle over voting rights.

After which bitter fight, some said the epically long lines inside June primary as well as so far in early voting felt predictable — just another example of the challenges voters face, especially those in predominately Black areas.

“If you live in my neighborhood … This particular’s not like This particular came as a shock, like ‘Oh my goodness, we have to wait a long time,’ ” said Gayle B., a resident of southwest Atlanta in Fulton County who says she waited 5 as well as a half hours at an early voting location inside June primary. “Granted, 5 as well as half hours was extreme, however This particular can be a part of how we live.”

Trump’s Twitter attacks on mail-in ballots as well as Fulton County’s issues in June with processing absentee ballots are also influencing voter decisions about how they cast their ballots.
Voters cast their ballots inside of Atlanta's State Farm Arena, the largest early voting site in Georgia, on the first day of early voting on October 12, 2020.

Rosemary Blankson was one of hundreds of voters who lined up before the polls opened Monday outside State Farm Arena — the largest polling place inside state, with 300 voting machines — for the first day of early voting.

She said she had voted absentee inside June primary, however then had never received a ballot she requested for a later special election.

as well as despite her preexisting conditions as well as the ongoing pandemic, she said the fear of not receiving her ballot in time outweighed her concerns over the coronavirus.

“I cannot let them not sending me my ballot stop me via voting,” Blankson said. “So my mind was made up This particular time around, as well as I was like, ‘I’m just going to go down the first day of early voting as well as just get This particular done.’ “

Source : Georgia’s pandemic primary was a disaster. Experts fear the state can be still vulnerable to a repeat.