State election officials are blaming inexperienced staff and coronavirus safety concerns for severe voting delays at Georgia’s primary election on Tuesday.
Voters reported long delays and queues while waiting to cast their vote at polling stations and officials have labelled the setbacks in certain counties as the fault of staffing issues and coronavirus health concerns.
“We have reports of poll workers not understanding setup or how to operate voting equipment,” Gabriel Sterling, the state’s voting implementation manager said in a statement.
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“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.”
Voters across the state have reported malfunctions in the voting process, with some criticising the lack of effective provisions in “critical” political times.
Voter Monica Hickman told CNN that she had to wait a substantial amount of time to vote after joining a line at about 6.45am due to the malfunction of voting machines.
“It was after 7.30am 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,” Ms 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,” she added.
Another voter Dan Upshaw, spoke to CNN when he was in line to vote. He had reportedly been waiting since 8am and poll workers told him they only had one functioning voting machine.
“We were told Fulton County was on site working on them,” he said. “Last official update was that there were three machines working, but voters are saying there are only two.”
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“Some voters are leaving early,” he added.
Mr Upshaw told the outlet that he believed he had about 45 minutes longer to wait until he could vote.
Robb Pitts, the chairman of the Fulton County Board of Commissioners, told the broadcaster that some issues are due to staffing shortages out of fear of working amidst the coronavirus.
“We had a problem where seven people who would normally work at the polls, six of them decided they didn’t want to work because of the virus, so we had to scramble at the last minute to find new workers,” he said.
He also suggested that “there’s a lot of technology involved now and a lot of our poll workers have typically been retired people and the technology can be a challenge sometime.”
On Tuesday Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger released his own statement calling the voting situation in certain precincts ”unacceptable” and stating that his office would be undertaking an investigation into the matter.
“My office has opened an investigation to determine what these counties need to do to resolve these issues before November’s election,” he said.
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.”
There have been more than 52,000 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the state of Georgia as of Tuesday, and 2,200 people have died of the disease.
Mr Sterling seemingly addressed his earlier statement on Twitter on Tuesday writing: “I want to make something clear…all Poll workers are doing the best they can under difficult circumstances. Every county wants to vote every voter who wants to and we are working with all counties, including Fulton to get the lines moving. Pray for all election and poll workers.”
The state is also seemingly encountering strain within its absentee voting system as a result of the high volume of ballots.
A source in the secretary of state’s office told CNN that some counties in the state are straining under the amount that has been received so far.
The state is said to have received more than 1.2 million absentee ballots, a primary participation record, and around 1.16 million more than the state usually sees each year.
Ninety-six percent of ballots that were requested had been recorded as delivered to voters as of last week, the secretary of state’s office reportedly said.
Absentee mail-in ballots must be received by county elections offices by 7pm Eastern Time on Tuesday.