- 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from the new voting machine system, which was put in place after a federal judge last year ordered the state to replace outdated voting machines that did not provide paper records.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)
Republicans Say They Will Block Bill To Avert Government Shutdown and Debt Default
Democrats argue the bill is necessary to prevent an economic catastrophe.
Democrats Introduce Legislation
Democrats in the House and Senate unveiled sweeping legislation Monday that aimed to keep the government funded through early December, lift the federal debt limit, and provide around $35 billion for Afghan refugees and natural disaster recovery.
The bill is needed to avoid a government shutdown when funding expires next week. It is also necessary to prevent the Treasury Department from reaching the limit of its borrowing authority, which would trigger the U.S. to default on its debt for the first time ever.
For weeks, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has urged Congress to raise the federal debt limit, also known as the debt ceiling, warning that the department will soon exhaust all of its measures to keep the federal government within its legal borrowing limit.
If the U.S. were to default, it would be unable to pay its debts, sending massive shockwaves through the financial system.
Democrats have painted the bill as crucial to avert an economic doomsday that would massively undermine recovery.
They argue that the combination of a government shutdown and a debt default would destabilize global markets and leave millions of Americans without essential aid.
Republicans Vow to Oppose Raising Debt Ceiling
Despite the considerable threats, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has repeatedly said Republicans will not vote to increase the debt ceiling, arguing that Democrats should do it without their help because they are pushing trillions of dollars in new spending priorities.
Democrats have slammed the Republican leader’s stance as hypocritical. They point out that while it is true they are proposing new spending, it has not been approved yet, and the debt that currently risks default has been incurred by both parties.
Democrats also noted that trillions of dollars were added to the federal debt under former President Donald Trump, which is more than what has been added by President Joe Biden. As a result, Republicans raised the debt ceiling three times during the Trump administration with the support of Democrats.
McConnell, however, remains unlikely to budge. On Monday, White House officials said McConnell has not outlined any requests or areas of negotiation in exchange for support of the legislation.
While the bill is expected to pass the House, it appears all but doomed in the Senate, where it needs 60 votes to break the filibuster.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (Politico)
California Gov. Gavin Newsom Survives Recall
Experts say the outcome should act as a warning for Republicans who tie themselves to former President Donald Trump and attempt to undermine election results by promoting false voter fraud claims.
Recall Effort Fails
After seven months and an estimated $276 million in taxpayer money, the Republican-led effort to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) failed Tuesday.
Just under 70% of the votes have been reported as of Wednesday morning, showing that “no” on the recall received 63.9% of the vote. That’s nearly twice as many votes as “yes,” which had 36.1%.
According to The Washington Post, even if the margin narrows as more votes are counted, this still marks one of the biggest rejections of any recall effort in America over the last century.
Analysts say the historic rebuke was driven by high Democratic turnout and broader fears over resurging COVID cases.
While the Delta variant continues to push new infections to record highs in many parts of the country with lax mask rules and low vaccination rates, California, once a global epicenter of the pandemic, now has one of the highest vaccination rates and lowest new caseloads in the nation.
Newsom has continually tried to convince voters that those figures are the results of his vaccine and masking policies, which have been some of the most aggressive in the U.S.
Given that polls showed the pandemic was the top concern for California voters, it is clear that the majority favored his policies over those of his competitors. Larry Elder, the Republican talk radio host of led the field of 46 challengers, ran on a platform of getting rid of essentially all COVID restrictions.
In his victory speech Tuesday night, Newsom painted the recall’s failure not only as a win for Democratic coronavirus policies but also for Democracy at large.
“We said yes to science. We said yes to vaccines. We said yes to ending this pandemic,” he said. “We said yes to people’s right to vote without fear of fake fraud or voter suppression.”
“I think about just in the last few days and the former president put out saying this election was rigged,” he continued. “Democracy is not a football. You don’t throw it around. That’s more like a, I don’t know, antique vase. You can drop it and smashing a million different pieces. And that’s what we’re capable of doing if we don’t stand up to meet the moment and push back.”
“I said this many, many times on the campaign trail, we may have defeated Trump, but Trump-ism is not dead in this country. The Big Lie, January 6th insurrection, all the voting suppression efforts that are happening all across this country.”
A Warning for Republicans
Newsom’s remarks took aim at the efforts by Elder and other Republicans — including former President Donald Trump — who over the last week have claimed falsely and without evidence that voter fraud helped secured the governor’s win before Election Day even took place.
While it is currently unknown whether that narrative may have prompted more Republican voters to stay home, Newsom’s effort to cast Edler as a Trump-like candidate and the recall as an undemocratic, Republican power grab appears to have been effective.
Now, political strategists say that the outcome of the recall should serve as a warning that Republicans who pin themselves to Trump and his Big Lie playbook may be hurt more in certain states.
“The recall does offer at least one lesson to Democrats in Washington ahead of next year’s midterm elections: The party’s pre-existing blue- and purple-state strategy of portraying Republicans as Trump-loving extremists can still prove effective with the former president out of office,” The New York Times explained.
Even outside of a strongly blue state like California, analysts say this strategy will also be effective with similar candidates in battleground states like Georgia, Arizona, Missouri, and Pennsylvania, which will be essential to deciding control of the Senate.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (NPR)
Justice Department Sues Texas Over Abortion Ban
The department claims the Texas law violates past Supreme Court precedents on abortion and infringes on Constitutional protections.
Biden Administration Takes Aim at Texas Law
The Department of Justice sued Texas on Thursday in an attempt to block the state’s newly enacted law that effectively prohibits all abortions by banning the procedure after six weeks, before most people know they are pregnant.
The abortion law, which is the most restrictive in the country and does not provide exceptions for rape or incest, allows private citizens to take legal action against anyone who helps a person terminate their pregnancy after six weeks.
In its lawsuit, the Justice Department argued that the Texas law is unconstitutional because it violates past Supreme Court precedents through a technical loophole.
While numerous other states have passed similar laws banning abortion after about six weeks, federal judges have struck down those measures on the grounds that they are inconsistent with Roe v. Wade and subsequent Supreme Court decisions that states cannot prevent someone from seeking an abortion before a fetus can viably live outside the womb, usually around 22 to 24 weeks.
The Texas law, however, skirts the high court decisions by deputizing citizens to enforce the law rather than state government officials, taking the state out of the equation entirely and protecting it from legal responsibility.
Individuals who do so do not have to prove any personal injury or connection to those they take legal action against, which can range from abortion providers to rideshare drivers who take someone to a clinic.
If their lawsuit is successful, the citizen is entitled to a $10,000 award.
DOJ Lawsuit Targets Constitutionality
During a press conference detailing the DOJ lawsuit, Attorney General Merrick Garland referred to the enforcement mechanism as “an unprecedented” effort with the “obvious and expressly acknowledged intention” to prevent Texans from their constitutionally protected right to have an abortion.
“This kind of scheme to nullify the Constitution of the United States is one that all Americans — whatever their politics or party — should fear,” Garland said, adding that the provision of the law allowing civilians “to serve as bounty hunters” may become “a model for action in other areas, by other states, and with respect to other constitutional rights and judicial precedents.”
The Justice Department argued that the Texas policy violates equal protection guarantees under the 14th Amendment as well as the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which establishes that the Constitution and federal law generally take precedence over state law.
The lawsuit also claimed that the law interferes with the constitutional obligation of federal employees to provide access to abortion, including in cases of rape or incest, to people who are under the care of federal agencies or contractors such as those in prisons.
Both Sides See Path to Supreme Court
While proponents of abortion rights applauded the Justice Department’s legal challenge, officials in Texas defended the law and accused the Biden administration of filing the lawsuit for political reasons.
“President Biden and his administration are more interested in changing the national narrative from their disastrous Afghanistan evacuation and reckless open border policies instead of protecting the innocent unborn,” a spokeswoman for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), said in a statement.
“We are confident that the courts will uphold and protect that right to life.”
The DOJ’s suit will now be decided by a federal judge for the Western District of Texas, based in Austin.
Depending on how that court rules, either opponents or supporters of the abortion ban are expected to appeal the case, sending it to the conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal and likely ultimately placing the matter before the Supreme Court again in a matter of months.
The Supreme Court allowed the law to go into effect by declining to approve an emergency petition to block the measure last week, but it did not rule on the constitutionality of the policy.
As a result, the Justice Department’s legal challenge could force the high court to hear another facet of the law that it has not yet considered if it decides to see the case.