Georgia voters took to the polls Tuesday in one of the state’s most closely-watched gubernatorial elections in recent memory, with Democrat Stacy Abrams, a former minority leader in the state legislature, facing off against Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp.
A rainy morning in north Georgia kicked the day off, with some reporting long wait times in Atlanta and the metro, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
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Voters at a Gwinnett County precinct near Snellville started filling out paper ballots after the voting machines went down, the AJC reported. New equipment was being brought in, the paper reported.
“Polling machines down in Gwinnett County and volunteers say they’ve never experienced this before. Ballot card machines aren’t working. We’ve been offered paper ballots. Majority of the line has been here since 7am,” a woman tweeted.
Several precincts were down in the county, a diverse and populous metro-Atlanta suburb.
“We’ve got people who are voting with the paper ballots, and we’ve got people who are standing to wait for the machines to be fixed, and we’ve got people who said they are planning to come back,” a county spokesperson said, according to the New York Times.
One reason for the problem was a lack of power cords to power the machines, NBC News reported.
County officials said they planned to extend voting hours at the Annistown Elementary School in Gwinnett to 7:25 p.m. because of the problems, the AJC reported. The issues were fixed but voters remained mired in long lines, according to the paper.
In Pittman Park, a neighborhood in southwest Atlanta, video from WSB showed dozens of people crowded into a polling place and saying “We need more polls!” Only three machines were initially available at the location, the station reported, although five more were later delivered.
Fulton County Elections Director Rick Barron said the problems at the site happened due to a “mix up” on the assignment for the polling place, and apologized, the AJC reported.
Delays in an Atlanta polling place were blamed on overloaded machines, workers skipping out on the job and the ballot being “really long,” according to the Associated Press.
The election process is being closely watched, as voting integrity and voting rights rapidly became a central issue in the Georgia race, with Abrams alleging that Kemp’s office, which oversees state elections, had worked to make it harder for people to vote. Kemp has rejected the allegations as a manufactured issue drummed up by Abrams and the state’s Democratic Party.
A steady drumbeat of voting controversies has kept Georgia in the headlines in the months leading up the election. Some, including former President Jimmy Carter, have called for Kemp to resign, because as Secretary of State he is overseeing his own election, NPR reported.
He has declined, saying he is doing his job and campaigning at the same time, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. Abrams said Kemp was “abusing his power” and engaging in a “witch hunt” after his office announced an investigation days before the election alleging the Democratic Party in Georgia had attempted to hack into the state’s registration system, CNN reported. Kemp said he was doing his job and did not care how it looked, according to the network.
Georgia voting machines, which do not have a paper backup, have also been criticized for being vulnerable to hacking. A judge ruled earlier in the year that the state could move forward without changing its machines because the “scramble” could cause a bureaucratic nightmare and discourage voters, CBS News reported.
“The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, FBI and other federal agencies have opened a command center to help state and local election offices with any major problems that arise,” the Associated Press reported.
A report from the Associated Press in October found that 53,000 Georgia voter applications were suspended because of Georgia’s controversial “exact match” law, which flags registration if personal information does not exactly match other information the state has in its records. Even a missing hyphen or initial can be grounds for the registration to be suspended.
Those 53,000 voters, 70 percent of whom are black, would still be allowed to vote if they brought an acceptable form of identification, according to the AP.
The law has also caused problems for some 3,000 new citizens, who faced hurdles voting because their status had not been updated. Kemp’s office was ordered by a judge on Friday to smooth the process for clearing the way for those affected people to vote, the New York Times reported
A law requiring signatures to exactly match between absentee ballots and those kept by county election officials was also suspended on a court order in October, WABE reported.
Critics have also pointed out that more than half-a-million voters were purged from the rolls in Georgia last year, as reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The voters were removed because they had been placed on an “inactive” voter list and had then not voted in two general elections.
Abrams and others have called these incidences evidence of Kemp’s office trying to disenfranchise voters. While stumping for Abrams, former President Barack Obama repeated the accusation, McClatchy previously reported.
“If you are aspiring to the highest office in the state in which you pledge to look out for the people of your state, then how can you actively try to prevent the citizens of your state from exercising their most basic right?” he said.
Kemp has rejected claims that his office is attempting to make it more difficult to vote.
“Right now, we have more people on the voting rolls than ever before. That’s because of online voter registration championed by Brian Kemp. We also have record turnout for early voting,” a spokesperson for Kemp said, according to USA Today.