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 It seems like Georgia’s top election officials learned little to nothing from Wisconsin’s spring primary. As Georgians vote Tuesday in the consolidated and rescheduled presidential and state primaries, many are reporting long lines, polling locations delayed in opening, and varying issues with the new voting machines. Coupled with poll closures, challenges with scaling up absentee ballot use across the state have resulted in delays and frustration for many voters across the Atlanta metro area. Polling locations opened Tuesday morning at 7 AM—or at least were supposed to—and reports of voting problems are streaming in across social media.

Members of the Mableton Improvement Coalition Community Facebook group reported that some polling locations were not ready at 7 AM. Charles Stephens, the founder and executive director of The Counter Narrative Project, tweeted early Tuesday that machines were not working at the Lindsay Street Baptist Church. New Georgia Project staff and volunteers noted similar issues, with upward of six polling locations still not completely open by 9 AM. 

Atlanta School Board Chair Jason Esteves tweeted pictures as he stood in line waiting to vote Tuesday morning. Esteves, who applied for an absentee ballot at the same time as his wife, said he never received it. His wife finally received her ballot on Friday. Esteves estimated he waited in line for three hours to vote.

Savannah-based community advocate Amanda Hollowell told Prism of a range of challenges by 10 AM, including precincts with machines down due to Wi-Fi connectivity problems, missing or damaged electrical cords, and in some cases machines not turning on at all. Hollowell noted a few polling locations she was made aware of reportedly opened an hour late. As in many areas across the state, volunteers were gearing up to drop off water, snacks, and umbrellas to people waiting in line.

WSB Investigative Reporter Justin Gray tweeted his personal frustration with the Fulton County election director, who Gray reported urged the public to be patient and wait for absentee ballots. For many people these ballots never arrived.

[Read: Georgia organizers respond to voter fraud task force by forming a league of voter empowerment]

Aklima Khondoker, Georgia state director of All Voting is Local, spoke with Prism over the weekend and reflected on the strain COVID-19 has put on the election system. “[It] is the job of the secretary of state’s office and the state election board to make sure that [local boards of elections] have the resources in place so that people can still access their ballot, COVID or no COVID,” said Khondoker. “What we are seeing right now are the remnants of institutional racism throughout our elections that are now coming to a head. Georgia has always had its issues with making it more burdensome for people of color to access the ballot.”

All Voting is Local Georgia was one of 10 voting and civil rights organizations that sent a letter to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger last week urging the state to address looming concerns ahead of today’s election. The group asked the secretary of state to adopt several provisions to ensure a safe and equitable voting experience, including an extension of the deadline for receipt of mailed absentee ballots. As of the time of this article, absentee ballots must be received by the designated county by 7 PM. Not all counties are providing the same access to dropbox locations.

Speaking with Prism shortly after the announcement of Raffensperger’s voter fraud task force in April, Tamieka Atkins, executive director of ProGeorgia, talked about the shifts in election administration and the scaling up of absentee ballot use ahead of today’s primary election and potential challenges unfolding across the state as voters try to cast their ballots.

“There is an opportunity here I think to shift how Georgia manages its electoral process,” said Atkins. “I think there is an opportunity here to shine light on the disenfranchisement practices; I think to shine light on discriminatory practices. I think there’s room to shine light right now on the inequity and on the lack of consistency in managing Georgia elections, and it’s gonna be up to community organizations to not get overwhelmed, demoralized, or depressed. We have to continue to shine a light on Brad Raffensperger and continue to ask the hard questions.”

During the April interview, Adam Sweat, director of election reform for ProGeorgia, pointed to the lack of uniformity across Georgia’s 159 counties as a part of the problem. “What you would hope if there was going to be a task force that it would [provide] some continuity to 159 counties because that’s also a big problem that we face in Georgia,” said Sweat. “That brings us to another challenge from a Georgia standpoint, how can we educate voters about the processes—and these are supposed to be overarching processes that affect each county—and then we’re finding specific issues in each county, and they’re not communicating to each other.”

[Read: Georgia pushes for absentee voting amid coronavirus concerns]

Leading up to Election Day, ProGeorgia ran a campaign called Stay Woke and Vote that educated people about voting by mail. It also focused on encouraging people to vote and be safe by wearing masks and social distancing if they were able to head to the polls.

For its part, the secretary of state’s office is blaming counties instead of taking responsibility for the statewide administration of elections.

Georgians who are willing and able will go to the polls today to cast their ballots. Absentee ballots must be received by 7 PM in order to be counted. People can call one of two election protection lines to report what they experience while trying to vote, including poll delays and long lines.

  • 866-OurVote is an election protection hotline managed by the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights.

  • 888-730-5816 is an election protection line set up by Fair Fight Action. Fair Fight is also collecting stories, reports about absentee ballot delays or nonreceipt, photos, and any other relevant documentation here or by email at story@fairfightaction.com.

Hotlines are available in Spanish, Arabic, and various Asian languages.

1-888-54GALEO (544-2536) (Spanish/English)

(404) 955-7322 (Asian Languages/English)

844-YALLA-US (925-5287) (Arabic/English)

“While my heart swells when I think about the historic turnout we’re seeing, I am also angry,” said Nse Ufot, executive director of the New Georgia Project. “The SOS and several county boards of election have failed to uphold their duty to manage this election. There are no circumstances where voters waiting in line for seven hours during early voting is acceptable.”

Ufot is no stranger to voting issues, having led the New Georgia Project since its inception in 2014. She took a moment to share with Prism stories her staff and volunteers are capturing from people across the Atlanta metro area and state.

“We have seen polling locations open late because of malfunctioning machines, understaffing, ill-prepared staff, poll workers giving provisional ballots to voters that are eligible to vote a regular ballot, and more. Yes, dozens of polling locations closed due to coronavirus, but this was avoidable.” 

Anoa Changa

Anoa Changa is a journalist and organizer focused on innovating electoral justice coverage. Follow her on Twitter at @thewaywithanoa.