Georgia’s first day of early voting didn’t go very smoothly to say the very least. Rather, it was marked by technical glitches and unbearable long lines. Local news outlets reported wait times ranging from five to 10 hours as crowds of increasingly annoyed voters wrapped around government buildings.
While Georgians have a right to be very upset, these early voting experiences fueled some baseless, partisan attacks. Progressive radio show host Thom Hartmann shared a video of long voting lines in Suwanee, Georgia, and tweeted, “This is what Republican voter suppression looks like. It's the result of a conscious, intentional decision by Gov. Brian Kemp and the GA GOP to make it harder for Georgians to vote, particularly when Black or young.” Others likewise shared the video and accused officials of intentionally suppressing the vote, but their apparent eagerness to score partisan points led to some dubious conclusions.
Their thesis is that Georgia Republicans are attempting to restrict early voting in an effort to retain power, but if long lines in Suwanee, Georgia are the basis of their claims, then their argument borders on silliness. Suwanee is in northern Gwinnett County—a region that has historically been a Republican stronghold. If Republican officials were up to no good, then one would imagine that it would be easier, not harder, to cast ballots in deep red voting locations, like northern Gwinnett.
Similarly, there were very long lines in Marietta, Georgia, which is the county seat of Cobb. Of course, Cobb hasn’t been as reliably Republican as it once was, but it is still home to enormous populations of registered Republicans. Further, if Republicans were attempting to limit the Democratic vote systematically, then that would be a herculean task because it is impossible to know where and how someone will vote in advance and then prevent them from participating in the election.
Beyond these matters, blaming Gov. Kemp for long lines is unfair. Nevertheless, Kemp has become a favorite whipping boy for nearly every complaint, and it is no different for the early voting critiques. While being the state’s top executive opens individuals up to criticisms, he isn’t in charge of elections; elections administrators are.
Despite all of this, there are some serious problems that need to be addressed ASAP. Voters shouldn’t have to stand in line for five to 10 hours to exercise their right to vote. Period. But rather than being a Republican ploy to steal an election, there might be simpler explanations. Georgia is relying on newer machines, and last Monday was the first day of early voting. Perhaps poll workers weren’t trained as well as they could have been on the devices. Their lack of experience may have shown, but bugs in the machines could also be responsible.
What’s more, the first day of early voting is always busy, but this year, it fell on a holiday and during a highly contentious election year. This drove single day turnout for early voting to a record of over 125,000 people. This may have been too much stress on the system, especially if there were inexperienced poll workers and/or first day technical glitches within the voting machines. Finally, there were long lines in both historically Republican and Democratic locations. Combined, all of this looks less like a devious ploy and more like poor planning and execution.
Even so, this doesn’t allay many Georgians’ concerns. They want to know what/who to blame and when the problems will be fixed. As such, elections officials need to conduct a quick investigation, identify the culprits and should work with state officials to ensure that the mistakes aren’t repeated. It seems that elections administrators might have already begun the process, given that early voting wait times have since dropped precipitously.
Thankfully, if your faith in in-person voting is shaken, there are other viable options. Georgia has a no-excuse absentee voting system. This means that any active registered voter can effortlessly request an absentee ballot and submit it via mail or personally deliver it to an official drop box. As studies have demonstrated, absentee voting is a safe and secure method of performing your civic duty, and during a pandemic, it is a great way to vote without placing yourself in harm’s way. After all, if you’re concerned about contracting COVID-19, then the last place you want to be is standing in a crowd for five to 10 hours waiting to vote.
Marc Hyden is the director of State Government Affairs at the R Street Institute, and he is a long-time Georgia resident. You can follow him on Twitter at @marc_hyden.