Photo source: The New York Times
- Georgia began its early voting period Monday, and at many locations, lines quickly stacked. Some people even reported waiting more than eight hours to cast their votes.
- While many have since called those lines evidence of voter suppression in Georgia, a number of election officials have said the lines are actually evidence of voter enthusiasm.
- In fact, Georgia’s Secretary of State estimated that nearly 127,000 voted on Monday, shattering the previous single-day record of 90,000.
- Still, others have said that while the lines clearly show voter enthusiasm, there is a larger problem that must be addressed if people are having to wait hours on end to vote.
Georgia Polls Open to Long Lines
Georgia began its early voting period Monday with massive lines that resulted in some people waiting for more than eight hours to cast their ballots.
Altanta-based news outlet WSB-TV reported that at some locations, people were still waiting in line well past 10 p.m. In fact, lines were so long that people even brought their own lawn chairs to sit in.
“It doesn’t matter how long it takes, we will stand in line to vote,” voter Viola Hardy told a local reporter. “So I think that’s the most important part. We’re voting like our life depends on it.”
This is the voter. Her name is Viola Hardy. She got in line at 6:20am. She was still in line to vote at 11:15am. pic.twitter.com/dbcHcIRrf8— Andy Pierrotti (@AndyPierrotti) October 12, 2020
While Hardy was able to wait in line for more than five hours, many others weren’t. A woman by the name of Elizabeth Brownlie told BuzzFeed News that she had to leave after an hour and a half of standing in line because she had an appointment to go to.
“For me, it’s very, very, very important and [it was] disheartening… to have that experience,” Brownlie said. “Voting should not be this difficult.”
Voter Suppression or Voter Enthusiasm?
One video tweeted by former Senator Claire McCaskill (R-Mo.) showed people lined up more than a street away at one voting center.
“This is a picture of voter suppression,” McCaskill said. “Why do Americans have to wait in lines this long?”
McCaskill was far from the only person accusing Georgia of engaging in voter suppression.
“What’s happening in Georgia should upset us all,” one person tweeted. “There is NO REASON people should wait hours in line to vote. Pure voter suppression.”
Despite cries of voter suppression, Georgia’s voter turnout on Monday was unprecedented. In fact, according to the secretary of state, nearly 127,000 Georgians cast their votes, up from the previous single-day record of about 90,000 voters.
In an interview with a WSB-TV reporter, one election official essentially compared the voting lines to lines when a new iPhone goes on sale. Many others have agreed, pushing against the claims of voter suppression.
“So much voter suppression happened in Georgia yesterday that almost 37,000 more people voted than any other early voting day!!” one person sarcastically tweeted. “Someone should be arrested for this travesty of justice!”
Others have also referenced the fact that Georgia allows any registered voter to request an absentee ballot.
Alongside that, a number of experts have questioned if the long lines are truly evidence of voter suppression. That includes David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation & Research, who told BuzzFeed News, “I’d be concerned if I didn’t see long lines.”
“We’re 22 days away from the election,” he said. “Anyone who sees a long line and does not have the time to wait can come back tomorrow.”
Becker called long lines for early voting a sign of voter enthusiasm, saying that each person who votes early is one less person who could potentially be stuck waiting to vote on Election Day.
Long Lines Are Still a Fundamental Problem
A full explanation may be more complicated than either just voter suppression or enthusiasm.
“Some of this is voter enthusiasm,” Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, saying on Twitter. “But this is just not acceptable in a modern day democracy. We need restoration of the [Voting Rights Act] & officials who’ll provide more voting opportunities during a pandemic.”
Essentially, Clarke is making the argument that while there was a record-breaking turnout, if people are still finding themselves in situations where they’re having to wait hours on end just to vote — with some people having to leave before they could even cast their vote — then there is still an underlying, fundamental problem that needs to be addressed.
Some have wondered how many of those people who couldn’t vote on Monday will actually return to try to vote again.
Others have wondered how many voters will wait until Election Day to vote. That itself could lead to similar delays like those that were seen on Monday.
Glitches, Paper Ballots, and Other Unexpected Holdups
Part of the reason lines were so long in some places Monday wasn’t just because of the sheer number of people turning out to vote.
It was also reportedly because of technical glitches that delayed voting. For example, at the State Farm Arena in Atlanta, lines came to a stop when check-in tablets started giving voters error messages.
Instead of issuing emergency paper ballots, poll workers and tech support staff held up lines to fix the tablets.
The same day, a federal judge in Georgia rejected an effort to require higher numbers of emergency paper ballots at Georgia polling places, ruling that the request “invites the court to plunge into the task of advising election officials on precise details of election administration.”
Election officials do still have the option to provide more backups if they want to.
In addition to glitches and questions about the role of paper ballots, lines were also held up Monday by people who had originally requested mail-in ballots, now showing up to vote in-person instead.
“That slows things down because they have to cancel that one in order to vote in-person so there’s more steps,” Cobb County Elections Director Janine Eveler said.
One man who spoke with BuzzFeed News said he switched from voting by mail because he was concerned about potential delays and President Donald Trump’s attacks on the U.S. Postal Service.
See what others are saying: (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) (WSB Channel 2) (BuzzFeed News)
Judges Uphold North Carolina’s Congressional Map in Major GOP Win
The judges agreed that the congressional map was “a result of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting” but said they did not have the power to intervene in legislative matters.
New Maps Upheld
A three-judge panel in North Carolina upheld the state’s new congressional and legislative maps on Tuesday, deciding it did not have the power to respond to arguments that Republicans had illegally gerrymandered it to benefit them.
Voting rights groups and Democrats sued over the new maps, which were drawn by the state’s Republican legislature following the 2020 census.
The maps left Democrats with just three of North Carolina’s 14 congressional seats in a battleground state that is more evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Previously, Democrats held five of the 13 districts the state had before the last census, during which North Carolina was allocated an additional seat.
The challengers argued that the blatantly partisan maps had been drawn in a way that went against longstanding rules, violated the state’s Constitution, and intentionally disenfranchised Black voters.
In their unanimous ruling, the panel — composed of one Democrat and two Republicans — agreed that both the legislative and congressional maps were “a result of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting.”
The judges added that they had “disdain for having to deal with issues that potentially lead to results incompatible with democratic principles and subject our state to ridicule.”
Despite their beliefs, the panel said they did not have a legal basis for intervening in political matters and constraining the legislature. They additionally ruled that the challengers did not prove their claims that the maps were discriminatory based on race.
Notably, the judges also stated that partisan gerrymandering does not actually violate the state’s Constitution.
The Path Ahead
While the decision marks a setback to the plaintiffs, the groups have already said they will appeal the decision to the North Carolina Supreme Court.
The state’s highest court has a slim Democratic majority and has already signaled they may be open to tossing the map.
There are also past precedents for voting maps to be thrown out in North Carolina. The state has an extensive history of legal battles over gerrymandering, and Republican leaders have been forced to redraw maps twice in recent years.
A forthcoming decision is highly anticipated, as North Carolina’s congressional map could play a major role in the control of the House in the 2022 midterm elections if they are as close as expected.
See what others are saying: (Politico) (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal)
Biden Administration Says Private Insurers Will Have to Cover 8 At-Home Tests a Month
The policy will apply to all the nearly 150 million Americans who have private insurance.
New At-Home Testing Policy
The Biden administration announced Monday that private health insurers will now be required to pay for up to eight at-home rapid tests per plan member each month.
Under the new policy, starting Saturday, private insurance holders will be able to purchase any at-home test approved by the FDA at a pharmacy or online. They will either not be asked to pay any upfront costs or be reimbursed for their purchase through their provider.
The move is expected to significantly expand access to rapid tests that other countries have been distributing to their citizens free of charge for months.
According to reports, nearly 150 million Americans — about 45% of the population — have private insurance.
Each dependent enrolled on the primary insurance holder’s account is counted as a member. That means a family of four enrolled on a single plan would be eligible for 32 free at-home rapid tests a month.
All tests may not be fully covered depending on where they are purchased.
In order to help offset costs, the Biden administration is incentivizing insurance providers to establish a network of “preferred” pharmacies and stores where people in the plan can get tests without paying out of pocket.
As a result, health plans that do create those networks will only be required to reimburse up to $12 per test if they are purchased out of that network, meaning people could be on the hook for the rest of the cost.
If an insurer does not set up a preferred network, they will have to cover all at-home tests in full regardless of the place of purchase.
During a briefing Monday, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said tests should be “out the door in the coming weeks.”
“The contracts [for testing companies] are structured in a way to require that significant amounts are delivered on an aggressive timeline, the first of which should be arriving early next week,” she added.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
Biden Administration Unveils Plan To Replace All Lead Pipes
The effort builds on the $15 billion allocated under the bipartisan infrastructure bill for lead pipe replacement, but industry leaders say $60 billion will be needed for nationwide revitalization.
White House Outlines Actions on Lead Pipes and Paint
The Biden administration rolled out a sweeping plan on Thursday to remove all the nation’s lead pipes over the next decade and take other steps to prevent lead paint contamination.
Lead, which was commonly used in piping for municipal water systems all over the country until it was banned in 1978, is a dangerous neurotoxin that can cause serious nervous system damage, especially in children.
Contamination from lead pipes seeping into water supplies has caused multiple high-profile public health and environmental catastrophes over the last decade, including the notorious crisis in Flint, Michigan.
According to a White House factsheet, an estimated 10 million households are connected to water through lead pipes. Children and teenagers in 400,000 schools and child care facilities also risk exposure to lead-contaminated water.
“Because of inequitable infrastructure development and disinvestment, low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately exposed to these risks,” the factsheet stated.
To address those disparities and revitalize water systems across the nation, the White House outlined 15 new action items the Biden administration is taking, including:
- Launching “a new regulatory process to protect communities from lead in drinking water” through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
- Clarifying that state, local, and Tribal governments can use the $350 billion aid allocated under the American Rescue Plan to replace lead service lines.
- Establishing federally-operated regional technical assistance hubs “to fast track lead service line removal projects in partnership with labor unions and local water agencies.”
- Awarding federal grants through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to remove lead paint in low-income communities.
- Directing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to expand childhood lead testing.
- Establishing “a new Cabinet Level Partnership for Lead Remediation in Schools and Child Care Centers.”
The White House also said it will direct the EPA to allocate $3 billion for state, local, and Tribal governments to replace lead pipes through funding that was approved under the bipartisan infrastructure bill signed by President Joe Biden last month.
A Matter of Funding
In total, Congress provided $15 billion to revitalize the nation’s lead-pipe systems under the infrastructure bill.
However, industry experts have estimated that it will cost $60 billion to entirely overhaul all the remaining lead pipes in the U.S.
As a result, the Biden administration has proposed several additional funding mechanisms in the social safety net package, known as the Build Back Better Act, that is currently being negotiated by Congress.
Specifically, the legislation would set aside $9 billion for lead remediation grants to disadvantaged communities, $1 billion for rural water utilities to remove lead pipes, and $5 billion for mitigation efforts such as removing lead-based water fixtures in low-income households.
The Build Back Better Act would additionally provide $65 billion for public housing agencies and $5 billion for other federally-assisted housing organizations to improve housing quality, including by replacing lead pipes and service lines.
The status of that legislation, as well as what provisions will remain in the final version, remain in limbo. While Democratic leadership has pushed to pass the sweeping social bill before the new year, all 50 of the party’s members in the Senate will need to sign on, and moderate Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) has continued to withhold his support.