Georgia’s Secretary of State has announced an investigation after poll workers reported long lines resulting from problems with new voting machines in at least three counties in Tuesday’s primary elections. Georgia’s primary was delayed from March 24 due to the coronavirus pandemic but the voting machine problems are unrelated. 

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced last year that the state would be purchasing these machines at a cost of $104 million. Though poll workers are voicing their concerns about the equipment, Raffensperger’s office is putting the blame on the workers from individual counties for not knowing how to work the machines.

Fulton County, which had reported the most amount of problems, tweeted that “everyone in line by 7 p.m. will vote today.” 

Stacey Abrams, the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate, tweeted Tuesday afternoon that “from Jasper to Fulton to Coffee & Chatham, long lines, inoperable machines & under-resourced communities are being hurt.” She called on Raffensperger to “stop finger-pointing and fix it.” 

Joe Biden’s campaign called it “unacceptable” that there were long lines and “significant issues” with the voting machines. “We only have a few months left until voters around the nation head to the polls again, and efforts should begin immediately to ensure that every Georgian — and every American — is able to safely exercise their right to vote,” said Rachana Desai Martin, Biden for President national director for voter protection and senior counsel, in a statement. “Our campaign will remain fully engaged in defending that right.”

While Biden has already clinched the Democratic presidential nomination, Democrats in Georgia are fighting in a highly-watched Senate race to compete against incumbent Republican Senator David Perdue in November. Investigative documentary journalist Jon Ossoff achieved national attention in 2017 despite losing in the special House election in the 6th congressional district that was the most expensive House race in history. He is now in a crowded field of seven candidates. Former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and businesswoman Sarah Riggs Amico are the two other candidates with high expectations. If a no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, the top two finishers will advance to an August 11 runoff election.  

Georgia’s other senator, Republican Kelly Loeffler, will be facing several challengers in a November special election.   

As of Sunday, more than 1.2 million people cast their votes statewide, including more than 324,000 who did early in person voting. In April, Raffensperger sent absentee ballot request applications to all 6.9 million voters. In the 2016 statewide general primary, there were around 37,000 absentee ballots submitted by mail. In the 2018 general election, there were 223,576 absentee ballots submitted by mail.   

On Tuesday, Raffensperger’s office announced an investigation into Fulton and Dekalb counties as a result of the voting chaos that has occurred to “determine what these counties need to do to resolve these issues before November’s election.” Gwinnett county also reported long lines due to the voting machines. 

“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.” Raffensperger said in a statement. “The voting situation today in certain precincts in Fulton and Dekalb counties is unacceptable.”

His office had voiced concerns of poll workers not being able to work the new machines early during Tuesday’s primary.

“So far we have no reports of any actual equipment issues.” said Gabriel Sterling, the statewide voting implementation manager, in a statement. “We have reports of poll workers not understanding setup or how to operate voting equipment. 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.”

According to Raffensperger’s office, Fulton County used an outdated system not compatible with the new machines which caused some of these problems. His office also blamed poll workers inserting voter access cards incorrectly for some of the problems.

In a statement, DeKalb Board Elections chair Samuel Tillman said the problems are not just limited to a select few counties in the state.

“DeKalb county Voter Registration and Elections Office is experiencing technical issues with the new state-issued voting machines. These issues are being seen statewide and are not isolated to DeKalb County”  Tillman said.

“The touch pads aren’t receiving or accepting the authorizations, and we are out of provisional ballots. There’s nothing we can do.” Cross Keys High Precinct Manager Jonathan Banes said in an interview with the Atlanta Journal- Constitution.

There were also reports coming from South Cobb Community Center in Mableton, Georgia, an Atlanta suburb, early Tuesday that only six of the 20 machines were being used.   

Georgia House of Representatives Speaker David Ralston, a Republican, has already called for an investigation into the matter calling the problem “unacceptable deficiencies.”

“I have directed Chairman [Shawn] Blackmon and our House Governmental Affairs Committee to investigate today’s primary elections process and recommend changes – legislative or administrative – to correct these issues and prevent future problems.” Ralston said. “Poll workers not being properly trained, voting equipment not working and absentee ballots not being received among other issues. Our poll workers give of their time to serve Georgians, and they do not deserve to be blamed for systemic problems beyond their control.”

It’s a sentiment shared by Democrats in Georgia with the state Democratic party chairwoman and state Senator Nikema Williams, who told CBS News that the voters should be allowed additional time, past the 7 p.m. cutoff, to cast their ballots.

“The secretary of state is responsible for the chaos that we’re seeing all over the state today. This is not isolated to one county.” Williams said in an interview with CBS News. “People’s voting rights should not be depended upon if your county has the resources to hire additional poll workers. The secretary of state needs to step up and do his job as the chief election supervisor in the state of Georgia.”

During the 2018 election voting hours were extended at three voting locations in Atlanta.

Lauren Groh-Wargo, the CEO of Fair Fight, a voting rights organization founded by the 2018 Georgia Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, called Tuesday’s poll problems a “democracy tragedy.”

In Georgia, the Secretary of State is “required to ensure that the democracy you get doesn’t depend on where you live or what you look like; yet they didn’t take the actions needed to make democracy real for all.” Groh-Wargo tweeted.

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