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Georgia Primaries Become a Voting Nightmare

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  • 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from the new voting machine system, which was put in place after a federal judge last year ordered the state to replace outdated voting machines that did not provide paper records.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)

Politics

McConnell Says He Would Block a Biden SCOTUS Nominee in 2024

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The Senate Minority Leader also refused to say whether or not he would block a hypothetical nominee in 2023 if his party overtakes the chamber’s slim majority in the midterm elections.


McConnell Doubles Down 

During an interview with conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt on Monday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) threatened to block a hypothetical Supreme Court nominee from President Joe Biden in 2024 if Republicans took control of the Senate.

“I think in the middle of a presidential election, if you have a Senate of the opposite party of the president, you have to go back to the 1880s to find the last time a vacancy was filled,” he said. “So I think it’s highly unlikely. In fact, no, I don’t think either party if it controlled, if it were different from the president, would confirm a Supreme Court nominee in the middle of an election.” 

McConnell’s remarks do not come as a surprise as they are in line with his past refusal to consider former President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the court in February 2016 on the grounds that it was too close to the presidential election.

The then-majority leader received a ton of backlash for his efforts, especially after he forced through Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation just eight days before the 2020 election. At the time, McConnell argued the two situations were different because the Senate and the president were from the same party — a claim he reiterated in the interview.

McConnell also implied he may take that stance even further in comments to Hewitt, who asked if he would block the appointment of a Supreme Court justice if a seat were to be vacated at the end of 2023 about 18 months before the next inauguration — a precedent set by the appointment of Anthony Kennedy.

“Well, we’d have to wait and see what happens,” McConnell responded.

McConnell’s Calculus

Many Democrats immediately condemned McConnell’s remarks, including progressive leaders who renewed their calls to expand the court.

“Mitch McConnell is already foreshadowing that he’ll steal a 3rd Supreme Court seat if he gets the chance. He’s done it before, and he’ll do it again. We need to expand the Supreme Court,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D-Ma.).

Some also called on Justice Stephen Breyer, the oldest SCOTUS judge, to retire.

“If Breyer refuses to retire, he’s not making some noble statement about the judiciary. He is saying he wants Mitch McConnell to handpick his replacement,” said Robert Cruickshank, campaign director for Demand Progress.

Others, however, argued that the response McConnell’s remarks elicited was exactly what he was hoping to see and said his timing was calculated.

The minority leader’s comments come as the calls for Breyer to step down have recently grown while the current Supreme Court term draws near, a time when justices often will announce their retirement.

On Sunday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) was asked if she thought Breyer should leave the bench while Democrats still controlled the Senate. She responded that she was “inclined to say yes.”

With his latest public statement, McConnell’s aims are twofold here: he hopes to broaden divisions in the Democratic Party between progressives and more traditional liberals, who are more hesitant to rush Breyer to retire or expand the court, while simultaneously working to unite a fractured Republican base and encourage them to turn out in the midterm elections.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (The Hill)

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Gov. Abbott Says Texas Will Build Border Wall With Mexico

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The announcement follows months of growing tension between the Texas governor and President Biden over immigration policies.


Texas Border Wall 

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced during a press conference Thursday that the state would build a border wall with Mexico, extending the signature campaign promise of former President Donald Trump.

Abbott provided very few details for the border wall plans, and it is unclear if he has the authority to build it.

While some of the land is state-owned, much of it belongs to the federal government or falls on private property.

Even if the state were able to build on federal ground, private landowners who fought the Trump administration’s attempts to take their land through eminent domain would still remain an obstacle for any renewed efforts.

During his term, Trump built over 450 miles of new wall, but most of it covered areas where deteriorating barriers already existed, and thus had previously been approved for the federal project.

The majority of the construction also took place in Arizona, meaning Abbott would have much ground to cover. It is also unclear how the governor plans to pay for the wall.

Trump had repeatedly said Mexico would fund the wall, but that promise remained unfulfilled, and the president instead redirected billions of taxpayer dollars from Defense Department reserves.

While Abbott did say he would announce more details about the wall next week, his plan was condemned as ill-planned by immigration activists, who also threatened legal challenges.

“There is no substantive plan,” said Edna Yang, the co-executive director of the Texas-based immigration legal aid and advocacy group American Gateways. “It’s not going to make any border community or county safer.”

Ongoing Feud

Abbott’s announcement comes amid escalating tensions between the governor and the administration of President Joe Biden.

Biden issued a proclamation that stopped border wall construction on his first day of office, and has since undone multiple Trump-era immigration policies. Abbott, for his part, has blamed Biden’s rollback of Trump’s rules for the influx of migrants at the border in recent months. 

Two weeks ago, the governor deployed over 1,000 National Guard members and troopers from the Texas Department of Public Safety to the border as part of an initiative launched in March to ramp up border security dubbed Operation Lone Star.

Last week, Abbott issued a disaster declaration which, among other measures, directed the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to strip the state licenses of all shelters that house migrant children and have contracts with the federal government.

The move, which federal officials have already threatened to take legal action against, could effectively force the 52 state-licensed shelters housing around 8,600 children to move the minors elsewhere.

During Thursday’s press conference, Abbott also outlined a variety of other border initiatives, including appropriating $1 billion for border security, creating a task force on border security, and increasing arrests for migrants who enter the country illegally.

“While securing the border is the federal government’s responsibility, Texas will not sit idly by as this crisis grows,” he said. “Our efforts will only be effective if we work together to secure the border, make criminal arrests, protect landowners, rid our communities of dangerous drugs and provide Texans with the support they need and deserve.”

See what others are saying: (The Texas Tribune) (The New York Times) (CNN)

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Biden Ends Infrastructure Talks With Republicans

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The president is now looking at other paths forward, including a plan being drafted by a bipartisan group of senators or the possibility of passing his proposal without Republican support.


Biden Looks to Bipartisan Group as Negotiations Collapse

After weeks of negotiations, President Joe Biden ended his efforts to reach an infrastructure deal with a group of Senate Republicans Tuesday.

Hopes for the centerpiece of Biden’s domestic agenda, however, are not dead. Lawmakers have already moved quickly to craft contingencies, outlining three main pathways for the next steps forward.

First, while an agreement between Biden and Republican senators is no longer an option, a joint deal is not off the table. Amid the ongoing negotiations, a bipartisan group of centrist senators have been quietly crafting an alternative plan in case the talks collapsed.

Currently, very few details of that plan are public, but the moderates have made it clear that their biggest division right now is the same sticking point that hung up Biden and the GOP group: how to fund the plan.

Negotiations on that front could prove very difficult, but they could also yield more votes. As a result, Biden indicated this path is his first choice, calling three members of the group Tuesday evening to cheer on their efforts.

Even if the group can come up with a deal that appeases Biden, the possibility still exists that not enough members would embrace it. In addition to funding questions, there are still disputes between Democrats and Republicans in regards to what constitutes “infrastructure.”

The president wants to expand the definition to more broad, economic terms. Republicans, however, have repeatedly rejected that, instead opting for more traditional conceptions of infrastructure.

As a result, while GOP lawmakers are worried that any proposal from the moderates would be too expansive, Democrats are concern that key provisions would be cut.

Other Alternatives

If a joint agreement cannot be reached, Biden’s second option for his infrastructure plan would be to forge ahead to pass a deal with just Democratic support in the Senate through budget reconciliation, the same procedure used to get the stimulus bill through.

Biden, for his part, does appear to at least be considering this option. In addition to calling the bipartisan group moderates Tuesday evening, he also spoke to Senate Majority Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) about drafting a new budget outline Democrats could use for the reconciliation process.

That path, however, also faces hurdles. In order for Democrats to even approve legislation through this process, they need all 50 members to vote in favor — something that is not guaranteed, given that some moderate senators have voiced their opposition to passing bills without bipartisan support.

While Schumer did say that he would still start work on a reconciliation package, he also outlined the third possible option: two separate bills.

“It may well be part of the bill that’ll pass will be bipartisan, and part of it will be through reconciliation,” he said Tuesday. “But we’re not going to sacrifice the bigness and boldness in this bill.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (NBC News)

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