ATLANTA (CN) — Voters in the Peach State were faced with hours-long waits and voting machine malfunctions during Tuesday’s primary election, but turned out for John Ossof, who was leading Tuesday in the Democratic Senate primary race.
Although former Vice President Joe Biden has already clinched the Democratic presidential nomination, Georgians still had the option to vote in the presidential primary. Voters also chose between seven Democrats vying to take on Republican U.S. Senator David Perdue and picked their nominees for the 7th Congressional District.
As of 1:30 a.m. E.S.T., Ossoff was leading a packed field of Democratic candidates for Senate with 46% of the vote and 38% of precincts reporting, according to results released by Georgia’s Secretary of State. Although Ossoff was well ahead, with Sarah Riggs Amico in second place with 14% of the vote, the race was too early to call. Ossoff must win 50% of the vote to avoid a runoff.
Due to widespread issues at the polls, some polling locations remained open until 9 p.m. and voters remained standing in line even after that. Results in the state are not expected until late in the evening.
Problems began immediately as polls opened statewide at 7 a.m. Tuesday.
Although over 1.2 million Georgians voted using absentee ballots, voters who headed to the polls Tuesday found themselves waiting for hours in long lines which seemed to barely move.
Lines at polling places in Fulton County and across metro Atlanta spilled out onto sidewalks, some polling locations failed to open on time and poll workers struggled to operate the state’s new voting machines.
“This seems to be happening throughout Atlanta and perhaps throughout the county. People have been in line since before 7:00 am this morning,” Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms tweeted Tuesday just 30 minutes after polls opened.
“If you are in line, PLEASE do not allow your vote to be suppressed. PLEASE stay in line. They should offer you a provisional ballot if the machines are not working,” she added.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, called the problems “in certain precincts” in Fulton and DeKalb counties “unacceptable.”
“My office has opened an investigation to determine what these counties need to do to resolve these issues before November’s election,” he said in a statement.
But Raffensperger demurred from accepting responsibility for issues with the voting system, instead blaming local officials.
“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,” he said.
The Georgia Democratic Party, however, placed the blame squarely on Raffensperger’s shoulders.
“The Secretary of State’s job is to provide adequate support and training for counties as he implemented Georgia’s new voting system, and he has failed,” Maggie Chambers, a spokeswoman for the party, said in a statement Tuesday. “We demand statewide action by the Secretary of State — the chief elections official in Georgia — to fix this problem immediately before we see these issues for every election this cycle.”
At West Hunter Street Baptist Church in Atlanta’s historically black West End neighborhood, some voters who lined up before 7 a.m. did not finish casting their ballots until nearly 9 a.m.
It took about 90 minutes for Essence Coleman, a 36-year-old MailChimp customer support technician, to get inside the precinct’s doors.
Although she said her experience voting was “seamless,” she said she has never waited so long to vote.
It was unclear what caused the sluggish line outside the polling place, but precincts across the Atlanta area have reported difficulties turning on voter check-in equipment, encoding voter access cards and installing touchscreens on the state’s new $104 million voting system.
The new system, which debuted statewide Tuesday, uses touchscreens attached to printers to generate paper ballots. The system is supposed to guard against vote tampering.
Many Georgia precincts have also been consolidated, forcing them to serve more voters than usual.
Ivan Gaskin, a 26-year-old spoken word poet who had been waiting in line outside the West Hunter Street Baptist Church precinct for 30 minutes Tuesday morning, said he was unsure how long he would be willing to wait to vote and called the long line “a deterrent.”
“I’m ready to wait for some time but I don’t think it should take this long… I understand early voting is an option but on election day it seems like a two-hour wait is kind of a big ask,” he said.
Some voters anticipated the long wait, bringing folding chairs to sit in and reading paperback books to occupy their time.
Retired real estate agent Ivy Harris, 65, said she had been waiting an hour while sitting in her collapsible chair.
Harris said she was focused on the presidential primary race and was inspired to vote by the Black Lives Matter movement.
She declined to say who she was voting for but said, “It won’t be Trump.”
Gabriel Sterling, the elections official in charge of implementing Georgia’s new voting system, said most problems Tuesday were occurring in Fulton County.
“If you must vote in person today, pack your patience in many Fulton precincts,” he said.
Sterling blamed the Fulton County Board of Elections for the problems, saying that issues with the machines are due to user error and that poll workers are trying to insert voter cards upside-down.
Sterling later admitted that equipment was delivered late to some precincts in Gwinnett County, just outside of Fulton County, where most of Atlanta is located.
Samuel Tillman, chair of the elections board in DeKalb County, which includes a small section of Atlanta, contradicted Sterling’s assumption in a statement Tuesday, confirming that the DeKalb County Voter Registration and Elections Office is experiencing “technical issues” with the new voting machines.
“These issues are being seen statewide and are not isolated to DeKalb County,” Tillman said.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, the state’s top election official, said the issues with the new voting systems were not related to technical issues.
“So far we have no reports of any actual equipment issues. We do have reports of equipment being delivered to the wrong locations and delivered late,” Raffensperger said in a statement Tuesday. “We have reports of poll workers not understanding setup or how to operate voting equipment.”
He added, “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. Well over 2,000 precincts are functioning normally throughout the state of Georgia.”
Raffensperger has said the state will not begin reporting results until all voting is complete Tuesday evening.
In response to the election issues Tuesday, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms tweeted, “Let’s all work, hope and pray that this [will] not be a preview of November.”