'COVID Situation' Blamed for Hours' Long Lines at Some Georgia Polling Places

Susan Jones | June 10, 2020 | 8:53am EDT
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Some Georgia voters waited more than 3 hours to cast their ballot on Tuesday. (Photo/Screen capture/11alive.com/YouTube)
Some Georgia voters waited more than 3 hours to cast their ballot on Tuesday. (Photo/Screen capture/11alive.com/YouTube)

(CNSNews.com) - Georgia's Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger says his office will investigate voting problems that surfaced Tuesday in several counties, resulting in hours-long waits for some frustrated voters.

"The voting situation today in certain precincts in Fulton and DeKalb counties is unacceptable," Raffensperger told WAGA-TV in a statement. "My office has opened an investigation to determine what these counties need to do to resolve these issues before November’s election."

On Tuesday night, Gabriel Sterling, Georgia's Statewide Voting Implementation Manager, blamed "the COVID situation, in large part," for the long lines in some precincts.

“We did lose many polling places, because it's summertime, the schools are closed. Churches opted out. VFW halls opted out," Sterling told CNN's Chris Cuomo.

“In Fulton County, specifically, they lost 40 locations and collapsed many of those locations into mega-precincts, which saw a lot of these amazingly long lines.

“We said, this is not a good idea. You need to find other, alternative locations. And those kind of polling closures, the things we're discussing, are literally county decisions. They are made at the county level, and the state has zero ability to tell them not to do that.”

Sterling noted that in Fulton County, 15 voting machines were sent to one library, "but the rules of COVID spacing only allowed four voters at a time into the place."

Training poll workers was another problem: “The majority of our poll workers, the average age is 70. So we lost many of those poll workers. So we recruited, the counties recruited new poll workers. But they had to train during COVID. It's very difficult to do hands-on training with equipment when you can't get more than ten people in a room."

Sterling said the state was using brand new voting machines, and while they worked, some poll workers didn't know enough about how to use them.

On top of that, Georgia experienced record voter turnout. For starters, over a million Georgia voters took advantage of mail-in voting: "As of today, before we voted today, we already had record turnout for a general primary," Sterling said. "It never happened before -- over one million, 300 thousand people.

Another 325,000 voters took advantage of in-person early voting, which ran for three weeks and included a Saturday. “That was a record,” Sterling said. “We anticipated a record turnout today, which is part of why we saw long lines.”

"And the main things we saw had nothing to do with equipment, but had to do with poll worker training, because they couldn't do as much of it. And logistical issues in the counties. We don't load the trucks, so items were delivered late. Especially in one county that has a history of problems -- Fulton County itself.

“We'd already opened up an investigation because they mishandled absentee ballot applications. We are now expanding that investigation of Fulton and DeKalb Counties because of the way they deployed items today. Now, in almost every case, when our technicians showed up, it was a two or three minute fix because the poll workers had not learned what exactly to do with this new equipment.”

Sterling said the lesson learned from Tuesday's problems is the need for more training.  While the state trains the trainers, the counties are responsible for training the poll workers.

“We're all going to learn from this. You're right, this morning started out terribly, especially in Fulton County. Some locations in DeKalb, Fulton and Cobb and Gwinnet. But for the most part, once we got the issues fixed where the poll workers just didn't know how handle this equipment, the line started moving.

"At the same time, when you have 400 people lined up at a polling location, you only allow six at a time in, and you can only scan a ballot -- this is the first time we used paper in the state in 20 years. We used to have the electronic machines.”

Sterling said election officials "started addressing the issues as soon as we saw them, and by a little after lunch, nearly every problem was off our board."

Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) told Fox & Friends on Wednesday that counties are responsible for setting up elections, including ordering an adequate number of voting machines and having enough trained poll workers.

“It's concerning to me that it seems like, especially in our metro areas, we're having the same problems over and over again,” Collins said.

“I voted on these machines early, I did in-person early voting. The touch screen worked. We're used to touch screens in Georgia, and now it just has a paper ballot component to it.

I think what we have to do is, we gotta make sure that we are doing better training, we're doing better locations and remembering that the people like to come out and vote. People do…like to come out and actually vote in person. It's a part of our pride as Americans to be a part of elections. But we just gotta do better planning and training.

“And it seems like we always, in Georgia, seem to come up with the same counties in same areas and the same problems no matter what the machines are," Collins added.

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