ATLANTA – Coronavirus infections sidelined some poll workers and scared away others. New workers were trained online instead of in person. And when Election Day arrived, trouble with new voting equipment and social-distancing precautions forced voters to wait in long lines, sometimes for hours.
The resulting chaos during Tuesday's primary elections in Georgia resulted in a national embarrassment and for the second time since 2018 raised questions about the state's ability to conduct fair elections. It also set off a scramble to identify and fix problems before the high-stakes November general election.
“It scares me," said Cathy Cox, a Democrat who oversaw Georgia elections as secretary of state from 1999 through 2007. "But hopefully it was such a traumatic experience for so many people, and appears to be such a black eye for Georgia, that it will ring the bell for elected officials to make significant changes.”
Tuesday's breakdown drew the second round of stinging criticism for Georgia election officials since 2018, when the state's closely watched gubernatorial election was marred by hourslong waits at some polling sites, security breaches that exposed voter information and accusations that strict ID requirements and registration errors suppressed turnout. That led to lawsuits and changes to state law that included the $120 million switch to a new election system.
Much of the outcry over the 2018 election targeted Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who still served as secretary of state when he ran for governor two years ago. Asked what went wrong in Tuesday’s election during an interview with WSB-TV, Kemp said “I think we’ll have to wait and see. I mean, certainly I think what happened in many areas of the state is unacceptable.”
“It will be up to those in the election community to get those fixed,” Kemp said.
Like two years ago, activists say voting problems seemed to disproportionately affect areas with large numbers of minority voters in cities such as Atlanta and Savannah.
"We saw those overwhelming issues in black and brown communities predominantly,” Aklima Khondoker, state director of the advocacy group All Voting Is Local told reporters.