State, county officials spar over voting issues in Georgia Primary
ATLANTA - Voters in two major metro Atlanta counties experienced major voting issues Tuesday, prompting charges and counter-charges between state and county officials.
Georgia Sec. of State Brad Raffensperger says his office is opening an investigation into voting problems in Fulton and DeKalb counties during the state's primary Tuesday.
"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," Raffensperger said in a statement to FOX 5.
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"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," Raffensperger's statement continued.
In response, DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond issued a statement that blasted the secretary of state.
“The Election Day issues relating to the use of state-purchased voting machines represent an attack on the democratic process. The Secretary of State’s office has alleged these issues resulted from a failure of county leadership. If there was a failure of leadership, it starts where the buck should stop, at the top. The eradication of any ‘learning curve’ rests squarely at the feet of the Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and his office."
Thurmond went on to call upon Gov. Brian Kemp and lawmakers to launch a "comprehensive, top-to-bottom" investigation that included the secretary of state's office.
"Those Georgians who have been disenfranchised by the statewide chaos that has effected the voting system today in numerous DeKalb precincts and throughout the state of Georgia deserve answers," Thurmond stated.
Raffensperger responded directly to the DeKalb County CEO in a statement. It reads:
“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," Raffensperger stated.
Widespread problems included trouble with Georgia’s new touchscreen voting system in races for president, U.S. Senate and dozens of other contests. Some voters said they joined the lines after requesting mail-in ballots that never arrived.
In Atlanta, lines of voters wrapped around the block. Several sat on sidewalks as they waited. Most wore masks.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms acknowledged the problems on Twitter, but urged Atlantans to stay in line.
Georgia House Speaker David Ralston announced plans to look into "irregularities in today's primary election across Georgia, particulary in Fulton County."
Richard Barron, director of Registration & Elections for Fulton County, said in a statement the COVID-19 pandemic created some logistical challenges and that the majority of precincts had minimal issues throughout the day. He did however site the need for improvement for November.
"This is a learning experience for our team and we have some takeaways from today’s events. We have identified several areas for improvement to help us be better prepared for the General Election in November," the statement read in part.
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Georgia postponed the primary twice because of the pandemic. The state’s March 24 presidential primary was first moved to May 19, when voters were set to choose party nominees for other 2020 races. As coronavirus infections and deaths mounted, election day was pushed back again to Tuesday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.