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Long Lines Snarl Voting in Georgia's Primary Election Amid Pandemic

People wait in a line to vote in Georgia's primary election at Park Tavern, June 9, 2020, in Atlanta.
People wait in a line to vote in Georgia's primary election at Park Tavern, June 9, 2020, in Atlanta.

Long lines snaked around polling places Tuesday, and some voters faced hourlong waits as Georgia held its twice-delayed primary election amid a shortage of poll workers and social-distancing precautions caused by the coronavirus.

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. One state lawmaker from Atlanta said there was a "complete meltdown" in Georgia's largest county.

Even before the trouble began, Georgia's chief election officer warned that results may be slow to come in as poll closures and virus restrictions complicate in-person voting and counties work to process a huge increase in ballots received by mail.

"I always vote in primaries, but the political times that we're having right now, or the moment that we're having, is scary," Layla Cantlebary, 39, said as she waited to vote in Roswell, Georgia, outside Atlanta. "With all the civil unrest, it just underscores the importance of coming out and voting for somebody who you feel is going to lead the country to a better place than we are in currently."

The long lines were evident shortly after voting began at multiple polling places, including the elementary school where Cantlebary and about 60 people waited.

Cantlebary said she arrived about 15 minutes before her polling place opened at 7 a.m. and waited more than an hour. The self-described liberal said she had planned to vote by mail but her absentee ballot never arrived.

In Atlanta, a line of voters wrapped around the block. Several sat on the sidewalk as they waited. Most wore masks. State Rep. William Boddie said he visited two polling locations that had long lines in his district. He said lawmakers from other parts of Georgia told him of similar problems.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said voters in line at one of Atlanta's largest precincts reported all the machines were down. She encouraged voters to stay in line and said poll workers should offer voters a provisional ballot if machines are not working.

People wait in line to vote in Georgia's primary election outside Park Tavern, June 9, 2020, in Atlanta.
People wait in line to vote in Georgia's primary election outside Park Tavern, June 9, 2020, in Atlanta.

"If you are in line, PLEASE do not allow your vote to be suppressed," the mayor said on Twitter.

Among the key races Tuesday was a contested Democratic primary for the nomination to challenge Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue. Democrats included former congressional candidate Jon Ossoff, former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and former lieutenant governor candidate Sarah Riggs Amico.

Perdue, a close Trump ally, is seeking a second term in November as Republicans look to hold the White House and a Senate majority. He drew no GOP primary opposition.

The race has proved to be anything but predictable, with the candidates forced to do most campaigning online because of the coronavirus. In recent days, the contest was shaped by widespread protests and civil unrest following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Criticism of the Trump administration's response on both fronts has added fuel to Democrats' ambitions of winning in Georgia, where Republicans dominate statewide elections but Democrats are making gains.

If no candidate receives more than 50% of votes, the top two finishers will advance to an August 11 runoff. Other Democrats in the race include former ACLU of Georgia head Maya Dillard Smith, Air Force veteran James Knox and Marckeith DeJesus.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Monday predicted long lines. He also said his office won't begin to release results until the last precinct has closed. He predicted the winners may not be known for days.

"To get a good concept of where we are with the election — who won, who lost, or who's in the runoff, things like that — I would think that could take upward of a couple days in some of these really tightly contested elections," Raffensperger said.

Voters will also select party nominees for U.S. House races and for state House and Senate. Other state and local races are on the ballot as well.

More than 1.2 million Georgians have already voted early, Raffensperger said Monday. A majority of those ballots were cast absentee by mail after the Republican elections chief sent absentee ballot applications to 6.9 million active registered voters, hoping to ease pressure on in-person poll operations.

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.