Georgia Primaries Become a Voting Nightmare
- Voters in Georgia experienced long lines and wait times of several hours in the state’s primary elections on Tuesday.
- While problems were reported all over the state, the majority of the issues were in predominantly black communities in Atlanta.
- Most of the complications stemmed from poll workers being unable to operate new voting machines that the state’s Republican leadership rolled out, despite warnings from election security experts.
- Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger blamed local officials for the failures and said he took no responsibility.
- Election officials, however, said Raffensperger was directly to blame and accused the state’s leadership of intentionally engaging in voter suppression.
Georgia’s Disastrous Primary
Long lines, hours-long waits, and poll workers struggling to operate voting machines— those were the scenes that voters all over Georgia were met with as they went to cast ballots in Tuesday’s primary elections.
While problems were reported across the state, the vast majority of issues were centralized in Atlanta and the surrounding suburbs, specifically in predominantly black communities.
Reports of long lines first emerged even before polls opened and continued throughout the day.
Part of the reason for the lengthy wait-times can be chalked up to coronavirus precautions. Leading up to the election, more than 80 polling places were closed and consolidated in the Atlanta metro area. New rules for social distancing also limited the number of voting machines and voters in a polling place at one time.
But the long lines were also made worse by the fact that many people who requested absentee ballots said they never received them. As a result, numerous people waiting to vote told reporters that they were there because their mail-in ballots never came.
The biggest problems, however, came from the new voting machine system, which was put in place after a federal judge last year ordered the state to replace outdated voting machines that did not provide paper records.
Instead of just printing a ton of good old fashion paper ballots, as urged by most election experts and advocacy groups, state officials decided to spend over $100 million on a touch-screen system that produces a paper record after the virtual ballot is filled out.
Numerous election security experts warned that there was not anywhere near enough time to switch the systems before the 2020 primaries and properly train people, especially as the coronavirus pandemic had scared away many of the usual, generally elderly poll workers.
Even before the pandemic, the ACLU of Georgia had warned in January that the state at-large was poorly prepared for the elections. Others also said that while the new machines were better than the old ones, they still risked major malfunctions.
Problems With Machines
Nearly all of those warnings came true on Tuesday, as precincts all over the state reported that machines were not working or missing entirely.
In fact, there was no place in the entire state that had a fully functional voting experience, election officials said, though Atlanta, again, was hit the worst.
On top of machines not working, election officials across the city also reported that they had not been delivered on time.
In some places, precincts delayed opening because poll managers were not given the correct access codes to set up the voting machines.
Other delays were caused by the fact that some officials were forced to processing paper ballots by hand.
After it was reported that several majority-black polling locations had zero working machines, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms took to Twitter to encourage people to stay in line.
“If you are in line, PLEASE do not allow your vote to be suppressed,” she wrote. “PLEASE stay in line. They should offer you a provisional ballot if the machines are not working.”
But there were not enough provisional ballots either. According to multiple observers, polling precincts ran out of both provisional and emergency ballots in the first hour of voting.
One poll manager told Georgia Public Broadcasting that his precinct only had 20 provisional ballots and that he had to wait nearly four hours before the county’s technical support got the voting machines online.
Officials Point Fingers
Despite the fact that election experts had essentially predicted exactly what would happen, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger responded Tuesday by blaming local officials.
“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,” his office said in a statement.
“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.”
Raffensperger also announced in another statement that his office would be opening an investigation.
In a separate interview later on Tuesday, Raffensperger himself said that none of what happened was his fault and that he did not accept any responsibility.
“The counties run their elections,” he said. “The problems in Fulton County are the problems with their management team, not with me.”
That was echoed by Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs, who also claimed Raffensperger was not to blame.
“There is nothing the secretary of state could have done to prevent this,” she said. “This is the singular failure of poor planning at the local level.”
But many pointed out that the lack of training was a failure on the part of Raffensperger. According to Democratic State Rep. David Dreyer, a training session for poll workers held Monday consisted only of a one-hour training video provided by the secretary of state explaining how to use the voting machines
“You needed an I.T. professional to figure it out,” Dreyer said of the training.
Many other local officials, statewide Democrats, and activists also placed the blame squarely on Raffensperger, arguing that he was responsible and that it was his fault for rushing to use the new machines and not providing proper training and resources.
“It is the secretary of state’s responsibility to train, prepare and equip election staff throughout the state to ensure fair and equal access to the ballot box,” said Michael Thurmond, the chief executive of DeKalb County where many of the issues took place.
“Those Georgians who have been disenfranchised by the statewide chaos that has affected the voting system today in numerous DeKalb precincts and throughout the state of Georgia deserve answers,” he continued, also calling for Raffensperger to be investigated.
Others went after Raffensperger’s assertion that he had no responsibility, pointing out that, in fact, there were many things he could have done to prevent the voting problems.
“It is a disaster that was preventable,” 2018 Georgia gubernatorial Stacey Abrams said in an interview Tuesday. “It is emblematic of the deep systemic issues we have here in Georgia.”
“One of the reasons we are so insistent upon better operations is that you can have good laws, but if you have incompetent management and malfeasance, voters get hurt, and that’s what we see happening in Georgia today.”
Concerns About Voter Suppression
Beyond the political finger-pointing, the voting catastrophe in Atlanta specifically also fueled accusations that Raffensperger and the other Republican leaders in the state were intentionally engaging in voter suppression.
Those allegations were also bolstered by the fact that so many of the problems were in largely black neighborhoods, despite several reports of voting going smoothly in the white suburbs of Atlanta, a fact that basketball star LeBron James drew attention to on Twitter.
“Everyone talking about ‘how do we fix this?’ They say ‘go out and vote?’ What about asking if how we vote is also structurally racist?” he wrote.
While discussions of systemic racism in the voting system have become more and more prevalent, the issue is especially pertinent in Georgia, where racially motivated voter suppression is not a new issue.
Black citizens and activists have long accused the white Republican leadership, which for years has controlled both the state and elections, of engaging in racist voter suppression.
Those concerns were magnified on a national scale during the 2018 midterms when Abrams lost the race for governor to then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp by just 50,000 votes.
The win came after Kemp, who refused to recuse himself from overseeing the election he was participating, enacted tough new voter ID laws and conducted massive voter roll purges— both of which disproportionately impacted black Georgians.
Politicians, activists, and advocacy groups all over the country cried afoul and accused Kemp of voter suppression, including Abrams, who said she lost the election because of the voter suppression. Kemp denied the accusations.
Implications for November
In addition to dredging up past allegations, the latest incident in Georiga has also prompted fresh concerns for the general election come November.
For the first time in a generation, Georgia is expected to be a battleground race. The state is home to two very competitive Senate elections, and with the presidential race gearing up to be very bitter and hotly contested, the explosive combination of razor-thin margins, allegations of voter suppression, and issues with voting machines could spell disaster.
“The fiasco is also the starkest warning yet for election officials across the country they must increase their efforts to avoid a similar disaster in November that could throw the results of a hotly contested presidential contest into chaos,” Joseph Marks wrote in the Washington Post.
That sentiment was also reiterated by a spokesperson for the campaign of Joe Biden, presumptive Democratic nominee.
“Free and fair elections are the cornerstone of our democracy,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “What we see in Georgia today, from significant issues with voting machines to breakdowns in the delivery of ballots to voters who requested to vote absentee, are a threat to those values, and are completely unacceptable.”
However, the campaign of President Donald Trump, who has recently pushed a number of false claims about mail-in voting, had a very different assessment of the situation.
“The chaos in Georgia is a direct result of the reduction in the number of in-person polling places and over reliance on mail-in voting,” a senior political adviser said in a statement. “We have a duty to protect the constitutional rights of all of our citizens to vote in person and to have their votes counted.”
See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Washington Post) (The New York Times)
White House Endorses Bipartisan Senate Bill That Could Ban TikTok
The measure does not target TikTok specifically but instead would set up a framework to crack down on foreign products and services that present a national security threat.
The RESTRICT Act
A bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill Tuesday that would allow the federal government to restrict or even outright ban TikTok and other technologies produced by foreign companies.
Under the legislation, dubbed the RESTRICT Act, the Commerce Department would have sweeping authority to identify and regulate technologies that pose a risk to national security and are produced by companies in six “foreign adversary” countries: China, Russia, Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, and North Korea.
In other words, the proposal would not explicitly ban TikTok, but instead creates a path for future prohibitions on the Chinese-owned platform.
While the bill’s text does not specifically mention TikTok, the group of senators made it clear that the app is their number one target, directing most of their criticism to the platform in statements announcing the measure.
The legislation, however, would go way beyond TikTik: it is also designed to prepare for future situations where apps or technologies from an “adversary” country become popular in the U.S.
The bill’s Democratic sponsor, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Ma.), echoed that point in his remarks Tuesday.
“Today, the threat that everyone is talking about is TikTok, and how it could enable surveillance by the Chinese Communist Party, or facilitate the spread of malign influence campaigns in the U.S.,” he said. “Before TikTok, however, it was Huawei and ZTE, which threatened our nation’s telecommunications networks. And before that, it was Russia’s Kaspersky Lab, which threatened the security of government and corporate devices.”
“We need a comprehensive, risk-based approach that proactively tackles sources of potentially dangerous technology before they gain a foothold in America, so we aren’t playing Whac-A-Mole and scrambling to catch up once they’re already ubiquitous.”
Proponents of the bill also hope that, given the broad scope of the legislation, it will gain more traction than past proposals that zeroed in on TikTok. Support for the measure was further bolstered when the White House announced it would back the move shortly after it was rolled out.
“This bill presents a systematic framework for addressing technology-based threats to the security and safety of Americans,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a statement. “We look forward to continue working with both Democrats and Republicans on this bill, and urge Congress to act quickly to send it to the President’s desk.”
A Bumpy Road Ahead
Despite the bipartisan push, there are still some hurdles for the RESTRICT Act to overcome.
Although the legislation does not directly ban TikTok, because that is clearly its intent, the same issues with an outright prohibition still stand. One of the most serious concerns is that banning TikTok would violate the First Amendment.
There is past precedent on this front: in 2020, a federal magistrate judge blocked the Trump administration from requiring Apple and Google to take the Chinese-owned app WeChat off their app stores.
In that decision, the judge argued that the government only had “modest” evidence about the app’s risks and that removing it from app stores would “burden substantially more speech than is necessary to serve the government’s significant interest in national security.”
TikTok has emulated that argument. In a statement responding to the RESTRICT Act Tuesday, a spokesperson for the company said the legislation could “have the effect of censoring millions of Americans.”
Meanwhile, even if the act does pass, there is also the question of whether the Biden administration would decide on a full-scale ban.
Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo would be the one responsible for overseeing the process under the bill, and while she said she said in a statement that she “welcomed” the proposal and promised to work with Congress to pass it, she has also previously expressed hesitation for a full prohibition.
On the other end of the equation, there are concerns that this measure will not ultimately get enough bipartisan support from Republicans who do want an outright ban and will refuse to accept anything that falls short of that.
While speaking with Fox News on Tuesday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) said the new plan did not go far enough and argued that Congress “should pass a bill that bans TikTok.”
Even if the legislation does get enough support in the Senate, its path is unclear in the GOP-held House, where it also does not yet have a companion bill. Republicans in the House recently introduced a measure that would give the president the power to unilaterally ban TikTok in the U.S.
That proposal, however, is not bipartisan like the RESTRICT Act, which will be a key test to see if legislators can find a middle ground on the matter.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Reuters) (NBC News)
What You Need to Know About Wisconsin’s Supreme Court Race — The Most Important Election in 2023
Gerrymandering, abortion, the 2024 presidential election, and much more are on the line.
An election to fill an empty seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court that has been described as the most consequential race of 2023 has now been narrowed to two candidates after the primary Tuesday.
Liberal Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz easily took first place, winning 46.4% of the vote with nearly all precincts reporting. In second place with 24.2% was conservative Daniel Kelly, a former Wisconsin State Supreme Court justice who was appointed by the state’s then-Republican governor in 2016 but lost his re-election in 2020.
Notably, the wide discrepancy in votes can be explained by the fact that Kelly split Republican ballots with another conservative candidate who came in a close third with 21.9%. As such, the general election is expected to be tight.
Also of note, this race is technically supposed to be non-partisan, but Protasiewicz has closely aligned herself with Democrats and Kelly has done the same with Republicans. Both parties, as well as dark money groups, have poured millions of dollars into the high-stakes election that will determine whether liberals or conservatives will have a 4-3 majority on the state Supreme Court at an incredibly consequential time.
There are a number of paramount issues at play here that have widespread implications not just for Wisconsin but America at-large.
Gerrymandering and Elections
Wisconsin is one of the most important swing states in the country: it helped decide the outcomes of both the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, and it is the center of debates on gerrymandering and free and fair elections that have played a role in those races.
The state Supreme Court, which has had a conservative majority for the last 14 years, has been instrumental in shaping those policies, having weighed in on many of the most crucial topics and almost always siding with Republicans.
For example, in what VICE described as “arguably the most important decision the court made in recent years,” the court ruled 4-3 last year to uphold one of America’s most gerrymandered maps that gave Republicans a massive advantage.
“The maps are so gerrymandered that Republicans hold six of Wisconsin’s eight House seats and nearly two-thirds of legislative seats in the state—even though Democrats won most statewide races last year,” the outlet reported.
That ruling created something of a self-fulfilling prophecy: the conservative majority court has decided so many critical topics because the state government is deadlocked with a Republican majority in the legislature and a Democratic governor.
So, by approving a map that massively favored Republicans, the conservative court kept that system in place, ensuring that they would continue to have the final say on so many of these essential areas.
However, if Protasiewicz wins the general election, the court is all but certain to revisit the gerrymandered map. Protasiewicz, for her part, explicitly stated in a recent interview that a liberal majority could establish new election maps. Kelly, meanwhile, has said he has no interest in revisiting the maps.
A decision unfavorable to the GOP-drawn maps would have significant implications for the internal politics of Wisconsin and control of the U.S. House of Representatives, where Republicans currently hold a very slim five-seat majority.
To that point, the Wisconsin Supreme Court also plays a big role in how the state’s elections are administered and how its ten Electoral College votes will be doled out in the 2024 presidential election.
Last year, the conservative court banned absentee ballot drop boxes, and in 2014, it upheld a GOP voter ID law that studies have shown suppressed Black voters. While the court did vote against considering former President Donald Trump’s lawsuit to try and overturn the 2020 election in Wisconsin, it only did so by a thin margin of 4-3.
The court will very likely be tasked with wading into elections-related cases in the coming years. Already, it is anticipated that the justice will hear a lawsuit by a conservative group aiming to further limit voting access by banning mobile and alternate voting facilities.
Abortion and Other Important Statewide Subjects
In addition to the ramifications for America broadly, there are also plenty of paramount issues concerning the state Supreme Court that will materially impact the people of Wisconsin.
Much of the race has been centered heavily on the topic of abortion and reproductive rights because the composition of the court will almost positively determine whether or not abortion will be legal for the state’s six million residents.
Following the Supreme Court reversal of Roe v. Wade, an 1849 Wisconsin law banning abortion went back into effect. Currently, a lawsuit against the ban is winding its way through the court system, and it is all but assured that battle will eventually go before Wisconsin’s Supreme Court.
Experts and analysts say that if Kelly wins, it is essentially guaranteed that abortion will remain illegal in almost all cases. Protasiewicz, by contrast, has campaigned extensively on abortion rights and vocally supported the right to choose.
Beyond that, there are also several other major issues the court will likely rule on in the coming years. For example, Protasiewicz has also said she believes a liberal majority could reverse a 12-year-old law that basically eliminated collective bargaining for public workers. All of that is just the tip of the iceberg.
“Everything is at stake, and I mean everything: Women’s reproductive rights, the maps, drop boxes, safe communities, clean water,” Protasiewicz told VICE. “Everything is on the line.”
See what others are saying: (VICE) (The New York Times) (The Washington Post)
Republicans Want to Cut Food Stamps — Even As Pandemic-Era Programs Wind Down
Experts say cuts to food stamps could have a devastating impact on the 41 million Americans who rely on the program.
GOP Weighs SNAP Cuts in Budget
In recent weeks, top Republican lawmakers have floated several different ideas for cutting food stamp benefits.
Earlier this month, Republicans now leading the House Budget Committee flagged food stamps — formally known as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP — as one of the ten areas they would support cuts to in their new budget proposal.
In a memo, the panel argued that stricter work requirements would “save tens of billions,” while a more rigid verification process for applicants would limit waste, fraud, and abuse. The idea comes as part of a broader effort to reduce the federal deficit.
Experts, however, say the proposed changes could result in debilitating cuts for the 41 million Americans who rely on food stamps and exacerbate an ongoing hunger crisis at a time when inflation has sent food prices rising.
SNAP provides low-income households with an average of around $230 a month for groceries. For many of those families who are also the most impacted by inflationary price increases across the board, that money is absolutely essential.
Experts have also noted that any additional cuts to SNAP would be especially harmful because Republicans are still proposing new cuts despite the fact that Congress already agreed just two months ago to end a pandemic-era program that had increased benefits in some states.
Under the pandemic policies, SNAP was expanded so households could receive maximum benefits instead of benefits based on income testing while also giving bigger payouts to the lowest-income Americans.
That expansion is now set to expire in March, and according to the anti-hunger advocacy group the Food Research and Action Center, an estimated 16 million households will see their per-person benefits drop by around $82 a month.
The Farm Bill Debate
Even if Republicans do not end up cutting SNAP in the budget, the program may still be in hot water.
While raising the debt limit is at the forefront of ongoing partisan battles at the moment, there is already a fight shaping up over another essential piece of legislation: the farm bill.
The farm bill is a package that has to be updated and reauthorized every couple of years. One of the most important legislative tasks Congress is responsible for, the farm bill includes many important subsidies and programs that are imperative to America’s food systems, farms, and much more.
SNAP is among the nutrition-based programs that fall under the purview of the farm bill, and Republicans have already tossed around the idea of cutting food stamp benefits in their ongoing negotiations.
Those debates are quite forward-looking, though it is normal for such discussions to occur early during a year in which Congress is charged with passing the farm bill. Lawmakers have until Oct. 1 to either enact a new version or agree on some kind of extension.