Voters describe Georgia primary as ‘a disappointment’

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Most polls around Georgia closed at 7 p.m. Tuesday night but more than two dozen remained open until 9 p.m. in Chatham County.

Many voters complained about long lines and said they had difficulty working the new paper ballot voting system—describing the day as “a disappointment.” Several Chatham County locals said they had to wait more than two hours to vote and others said they couldn’t wait in the long lines and had to leave before they could even fill out a ballot.

A member of the Chatham County Board of Elections said poll workers had trouble with the basics; there were not enough power cords and they were not trained on how to turn on new polling machines.

Board member Antwan Lang told WSAV News 3 it’s now up to the board of elections to make sure poll workers are trained from start to finish.

“Any challenges that we face in an election can be viewed to a citizen as voter suppression…we have a lot of residents that have to work on top of taking care of families, so many people who wanted to vote between seven and eight o’clock could not,” Land said, adding: “That’s not their fault and that’s not our poll workers fault. That’s our fault.”

Because of the technical issues, it took up to three hours for technicians to show up to some precincts. In all, issues at 35 Chatham County polling locations forced the election board to extend voting for two additional hours:

  • 1-05 JEA Building
  • 1-09 Central Church of Christ
  • 1‐10 St. Thomas Episcopal
  • 1‐12 Isle of Hope Baptist Center
  • 1‐13 The Sanctuary
  • 1‐14 Compassion Christian Church
  • 1‐16 Ferguson Ave Baptist Church
  • 1-17 Islands Christian Church
  • 2-03 W. W. Law Center
  • 2-07 Christ Community Church at Morningside
  • 2-09 Salvation Army
  • 3-08 Jenkins High School
  • 3-09 The ConneXion Church
  • 3-11 Southside Baptist Church
  • 3-10 Bible Baptist Church
  • 3-13 New Covenant Seventh Day Ad
  • 4‐13 Skidaway Island Presbyterian
  • 5-02 Senior Citizens Inc
  • 5-07 Chatham EMS/Station 1
  • 5-08 Savannah Primitive Baptist
  • 6-03 Crusader Community Center
  • 7‐03 Preston B. Edwards Gymnasium
  • 7‐04 Lakeshore Community Center
  • 7‐05 Woodlawn Baptist Church
  • 7‐06 Pooler Municipal Building
  • 7‐07 Rothwell Baptist Church
  • 7-08 Bloomingdale Comm. Center
  • 7‐11 Savannah First Seventh Day
  • 7‐12 Pooler Rec Center
  • 7‐15 Rice Creek School
  • 7‐16 Pooler Rec Center
  • 8-01 Civic Center
  • 8-06 Tompkins Recreation Center
  • 8-09 Moses Jackson Center
  • 8‐16 Royal Cinema and Imax

Lang wants to make sure poll workers are compensated for the extra time. He said the board will work on a contingency plan for November’s election.

Tuesday morning, Savannah Mayor Van Johnson addressed voting problems in the City on Facebook:

“I am receiving reports of polling places in #Savannah opening late or being unprepared for voters,” Johnson said. “If you are familiar with any issues or irregularities, please call the Board of Elections (912) 201-4375. Don’t be deterred or dismayed. Please vote.”

The Chatham County Board of Elections also issued the following statement Tuesday morning:

“The Chatham County Board of Elections is actively working to resolve a variety of problems at several polls this morning. We are also seeking authorization to extend voting hours at the affected polls. We appreciate the efforts of our poll workers and the patience of Chatham County voters through this process.”

Many Georgia state officials commented on voting issues Tuesday. But even Joe Biden, who won the Democratic presidential primary, weighed in on Twitter:

From ballot shortages and issues with machines to hours-long lines — what happened today in Georgia should enrage us all. We need to act now to prevent it from happening again in November. Our democracy depends on it.

Statewide Voting Implementation Manager Gabriel Sterling defended Georgia’s new voting machines, saying so far, there have been no reports of actual equipment failure. Sterling said reported issues seem to stem from poll workers being unsure of how to use the machines or from equipment delivery problems.

Read Sterling’s statement below.

So far we have no reports of any actual equipment issues. We do have reports of equipment being delivered to the wrong locations and delivered late. 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.”

Sterling then issued another statement later Tuesday afternoon discussing training for poll workers leading up to the day:

“That the Dekalb County CEO doesn’t seem to know that training poll workers and equipping polling places is a responsibility that Georgia law places squarely on the county goes a long way to explain the issues that we saw today in Dekalb. See OCGA 21-2-70 (Each superintendent within his or her county shall:… (4) selection and equip polling places…, (8) instruct poll officers and others in their duties, and to inspect systematically and thoroughly the conduct of primaries and elections in the several precincts of his or her county to the end that primaries and elections may be honestly, efficiently, and uniformly conducted). The Secretary of State’s office is tasked with providing training to the superintendents, who then train their poll workers and county election officials. The fact that the egregious issues we are seeing today seem to be limited to a few precincts in a couple counties suggests that the breakdown occurred at the county level. The other 157 counties faced the same difficulties of using a new system and voting during a pandemic, but they seem to have handled the issues that arose diligently and efficiently.”

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger called voting problems in the state, specifically in Fulton and Dekalb Counties, “unacceptable.” He said his office has opened an investigation.

Read Raffensperger’s statement below.

“The voting situation today in certain precincts in Fulton and Dekalb counties is unacceptable. My office has opened an investigation to determine what these counties need to do to resolve these issues before November’s election. 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.” 

Speaker of the House David Ralston said poll workers do not deserve to be blamed for systemic problems beyond their control, and said he has also called for an investigation into election issues in Georgia.

Ralston said he has directed Chairman Shaw Blackmon and the House Governmental Affairs Committee to investigate irregularities across the state, particularly in Fulton County.

Read Ralston’s statement below.

“The sanctity of our elections – being free and fair – is the very foundation of our system of government. Our elections must be efficient and voters must be confident that their votes will be properly counted.

We are hearing anecdotes from around the state – particularly in Fulton County – this morning of unacceptable deficiencies:  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.

The legislative branch of government has an obligation to go beyond the mutual finger-pointing and get to the truth and the real reasons underlying these frustrations and concerns.

I have directed Chairman 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.” 

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