Tanzina Vega: Am Tanzina Vega and this is The Takeaway. Now we turn to Georgia, where on Tuesday, voters spend hours waiting on long lines and dealing with equipment malfunctions and other indignities during the state's primary election. Many of the worst voting scenarios disproportionately took place in communities of color. Democrats and Republicans are blaming everything from new voting machines to the COVID-19 pandemic for the mess, but Georgia's voting problems didn't start this week.
The state has a long history of voter suppression, and that could mean voters will have an even tougher time casting their ballots later this summer, as the state prepares for runoff elections in August and the presidential election in November. Helping us break all of this down is Tia Mitchell, Washington correspondent with the Atlanta journal Constitution. Tia, thanks for joining us.
Tia: Thank you for having me.
Tanzina Vega: We saw essentially a mess across Georgia, but it was concentrated in specific communities. Tell us about that discrepancy.
Tia: Yes. Roughly 20 of 159 counties had issues, but the most pronounced issues, the longest lines, the longest waits were in parts of Fulton and DeKalb County. DeKalb is right next to Fulton County, so that's Metro Atlanta's core counties. Within those counties, which are they're very large counties geographically. Those problems were mostly concentrated in parts of those counties that are populated heavily by African Americans. That has been one of the concerns raised is that the problems did seem to be more heavily concentrated in African-American communities, although they were scattered throughout the state.
Tanzina Vega: Let's talk a little bit about that because when you see these types of issues concentrated in a certain area, we mentioned that both Democrats and Republicans are saying, well, this had to do with the pandemics. This was about new voting technology. What did you find, or what have you found so far that really led to these discrepancies, Tia?
Tia: Well, as you can imagine, the AJCs really been on top of these issues for months, and a lot of these things are worst case scenarios that counties the state and voting rights groups had predicted. That being said, there are no answers right now. There are a myriad of factors that are being considered and there are investigations underway, but there are no clear answers of exactly one thing that caused the breakdown. There are probably many, for example, you mentioned the new voting machines and because of the pandemic, the training was not allowed to be carried out in person. Training was limited, because of the pandemic, there were a lot of new workers.
Your average poll worker is a lot of times elderly people who've been doing it for ages. Well, those folks are at high risk and didn't feel comfortable staffing the election. There were not a lot of new poll workers. Even as recently as just the weekend prior to the election, Fulton County was looking for volunteers at the polls. The lack of information, the lack of training, again, the state of Georgia did try to encourage mail in voting to cut down on the lines, but there were breakdowns even with that process, Fulton County lost requests. People never got ballots. Fulton County took a long time to process the ballots because they were overwhelmed by demand. There are just so, so many, and social distancing at the polls played a part because you had to slow down the process. There were just a lot of factors that were likely at play.
Tanzina Vega: Tia, the state of Georgia, as we mentioned at the top, has a history of voting issues and some might argue even voter suppression. Can you tell us a little bit about that and why there may be concerns that these efforts are deliberate towards poor and black communities in particular?
Tia: Yes. Concerns about Georgia in voting, and particularly when it comes to access for African-Americans, has been an issue for decades. Of course, there were parts of the state that were covered under the voting rights act. Some of those protections were lifted by the Supreme court ruling. There's always been focused on ensuring that Georgia is held accountable for its breakdowns.
That became even more pronounced in 2018, when there was that close governor's election and Stacey Abrams raised a lot of questions about voter suppression, access to the polls, the way that absentee ballots were counted. We know that that statistically, if you're a person of color or if you're younger, your ballot is more likely to be deemed ineligible.
Tanzina Vega: Tia, I want to stop you right there. You said, if you're a person of color or you're younger, your ballot is more likely to be deemed ineligible. Why is that and who's making that decision?
Tia: I want to be clear, I'm talking about mail-in absentee ballots, and those are, again, that's something that has been held true nationwide. It's because from absentee ballots you have to make sure the signature matches. There are a lot of safeguards in place to ensure there's not fraud and as a result, when people are ensuring the absentee ballot was filled out accurately.
If you're older your signature might've changed. If you're younger, you might be a new voter who doesn't follow all the steps and misses something that gets your ballot ruled ineligible. Those are kind of a surface reasons, but again, there are voting rights groups and some folks, that something's Stacey Abrams raised in 2018 is perhaps some of these technicalities were used to disenfranchise groups of voters in a way that is politically expedient for certain folks in power.
Tanzina Vega: Tia, let's talk about that because you mentioned Stacey Abrams, but are we seeing any accountability on either side of the political divide, as far as who's going to make sure that this doesn't happen in August and in November, or are a lot of the efforts to make sure people can vote being really undertaken right now by voter rights
Tia: Initially, on election day in the morning after there was a lot of finger pointing. The state, which in Georgia, the state decides the equipment and the voter system for all of the counties. The state was saying, Hey, we did our job, the counties, which are in charge of ensuring that it's precincts have the right equipment have the number of workers needed. That's where the breakdown was. Of course, the counties were saying, no, the state didn't give us enough support and the state didn't ensure that everything was needed.
Then you had the outside voter rights groups. You saying we've been asking for these things and you guys weren't listening. I do feel like by yesterday evening and even in the AJC, our followup articles, there seems to be a little bit moderation of the finger pointing where even at the state level and the County level, they're saying we need to work together to fix the issues because it's unacceptable.
We have runoffs that will be not statewide, but certain parts of the state will have to go back to the polls for runoffs. Then again, in November, not only is it back to statewide election, but turn out is expected to double if not more than double compared to Tuesday's election. The stakes are much higher if those same issues are to happen again, the lines will be even longer. The weights will be even longer. The possibility of disenfranchisement of voters will be even higher.
I do believe that even our general assembly is coming back into session after a hiatus because of the Coronavirus. There may even be some movement when they returned to start addressing these issues and coming up with solutions, knowing that they don't want to repeat in November.
Tanzina Vega: Tia, before I let you go, I've got to ask you what you're hearing from the voters themselves, particularly those who've had to wait on these egregiously long lines. As you mentioned, social distancing wearing masks, being outside for that many hours. Are the voters that could stand to be disenfranchised, if things aren't fixed by August or by November, are they determined to stand and return? Are they determined to cast a ballot or are you sensing that these mess up or mix ups could really lead to people ending up staying home?
Tia: That's very interesting. You raised that point. The sense we got from voters on Tuesday, particularly in Metro Atlanta, is that they were resolute and they also were supported by organizations that brought water and snacks. Even some places had a DJ for music and folks were making friends in line and sharing chairs and people volunteered to be quote unquote, "line warmers," to stand in line for folks to allow them to maybe go sit in their car for a little bit and rest their legs.
People, especially in this climate, voting on Tuesday happened still as they have been protests and discussion about so many issues. Folks realize that elections do matter because who you put in power can have a lot of say over whether some of these policies when it comes to policing and funding for public services changes. People are saying, yes, we want it fixed. Of course, we lost some voters on Tuesday, but there were a lot of voters who stuck it out for hours because they believe it's important.
Speaker 1: We'll see what happens in August and of course, in November. Tia Mitchell is the Washington correspondent with the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Tia, thanks for joining us.
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