Major Problems With Voting in Atlanta as 5 States Hold Primaries

ATLANTA — Georgia election officials, poll workers and voters reported major trouble with voting in Atlanta and elsewhere on Tuesday as the state’s primaries got underway, most critically a series of problems with new voting machines that forced many people across the state to wait in long lines and cast provisional ballots.

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said on Twitter that voting machines were not working in many parts of the city. Poll workers in several locations were having difficulty operating the machines, which were new models.

“If you are in line, PLEASE do not allow your vote to be suppressed,” Ms. Bottoms wrote. “PLEASE stay in line.”

Nikema Williams, the chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Georgia, said she had 84 text messages reporting voting problems within 10 minutes of the polls opening at 7 a.m. Ms. Williams, who is a state senator from Atlanta, said that in some locations the voting machines did not work and in at least one other no machines ever arrived.

“It’s a hot mess,” Ms. Williams said. “How do you not have a voting machine?”

Election Day problems are hardly new to Georgia, where Republican officials have overseen voting procedures that have led to hourslong lines, most recently during the 2018 governor’s contest, which Brian Kemp, a Republican who at the time was secretary of state and in charge of running the election, won by 50,000 votes over Stacey Abrams. Tuesday’s primary was also a test of the state’s preparations to hold an election during the coronavirus pandemic.

Voting is a deeply felt and politically intense issue in Georgia because of its long history of disenfranchising black voters. The governor’s race was marred by accusations of voter suppression, particularly of African-American and other minority voters, which Mr. Kemp denied.

This year’s elections are bringing a new spotlight to Georgia, which has two competitive Senate races and for the first time in a generation is expected to be a presidential battleground.

The office of Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state, blamed Tuesday’s problems on a variety of factors, including a shortage of experienced poll workers because of fears about the coronavirus, and a learning curve in using the new machines.

“We have reports of poll workers not understanding setup or how to operate voting equipment,” said Jordan Fuchs, the deputy secretary of state. “While these are unfortunate, they are not issues of the equipment but a function of counties engaging in poor planning, limited training and failures of leadership.”

Less than three hours later, Mr. Raffensperger called the situation in DeKalb and Fulton counties, which cover Atlanta, “unacceptable,” but he said the rest of the state was doing fine.

Some voters who had shown up early in the morning on Tuesday expressed frustration over the long wait times, and many said on Twitter that voting machines were down at their polling locations. The polls were scheduled to close at 7 p.m.

Clarice Kimp, who arrived at her poling place in DeKalb County on Tuesday morning before 7, waited until 9:15 a.m. to vote, she said in an interview, describing a chaotic scene.

“There were supposed to be 12 people working there and there were only four,” Ms. Kimp said. “They could not get the voting machines to register voting cards and they said they could not reach the technicians.” Finally, the poll workers handed out provisional ballots, but they were also in short supply, Ms. Kimp said.

More than one million Georgia voters had already cast ballots before Tuesday, most of them by mail, after Mr. Raffensperger sent absentee ballot applications to all active voters.

But those who had voted in person before Tuesday at early-voting sites had already reported long waits — in some cases up to seven hours. New rules for social distancing and disinfecting voting machines had caused many of those delays.

Matt Holmes said the absentee ballot he requested did not arrive, so he and his wife went to an early voting site on Friday at the College Park Library. But the wait turned out to be six hours in the Georgia sun. “Tempers were flaring,” Mr. Holmes said, adding that there were not enough voting machines to accommodate the volume.

Nevada, North Dakota, South Carolina and West Virginia were also holding primary elections on Tuesday.

In Columbia, S.C., voters also described long waits at polling places, which were operating with coronavirus precautions in place.

Kate Blanton said there was a three-hour wait to vote in person at her polling place, Spring Valley High School, and a five-hour wait for those driving up to cast ballots from their cars.

“In 93-degree heat, I can’t do that with a mask on,” Ms. Blanton said, expressing hope that the system will be improved by November.

Democrats in Georgia were selecting a candidate for one of the two Senate races in the fall, to oppose an incumbent Republican, David Perdue. (The winner of the other seat will be chosen in a special election in November with no primary.) Georgia was also holding its presidential primaries, which were postponed from March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The leading contender in the Democratic Senate primary is Jon Ossoff, 33, who became something of a wunderkind candidate when he came close to flipping a House seat in a 2017 special election. He has tried to position himself as a center-left consensus builder with a particular focus on civil rights.

Mr. Ossoff has received endorsements from two of Georgia’s most prominent Democratic congressmen, John Lewis and Hank Johnson, but he could face a runoff election if he fails to clear 50 percent in the crowded field of seven candidates. If he is to face a runoff, it will most likely be against either Sarah Riggs Amico, a former candidate for lieutenant governor, or former Mayor Teresa Tomlinson of Columbus, Ga.

Mr. Ossoff, helped by national name recognition and a fund-raising effort still in place from his 2017 run, injected a last minute jolt of cash into the race, seeking to clear the 50 percent threshold on the first swing. If he does, he’ll become the centerpiece of a statewide strategy for Georgia Democrats, who are aiming to not only flip the state in the Electoral College but also change the balance of power on Capitol Hill.

  • Mr. Ossoff lost the 2017 special election to Karen Handel, a Republican, in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District. But Ms. Handel lost the next year to Lucy McBath, a Democrat. Now Ms. Handel is the favorite in Tuesday’s Republican primary to try to win back that seat. She faces four opponents in a district that was represented by Newt Gingrich for 20 years.

  • Georgia’s Seventh District was once reliably Republican territory, but it includes an increasingly diverse section of metro Atlanta. Now there are contested primaries on both sides for the seat held by Representative Rob Woodall, a Republican who is not running for re-election. Mr. Woodall won by fewer than 500 votes in 2018, and his opponent in that race, Carolyn Bourdeaux, is again seeking the Democratic nomination. Another Democrat in the race, Nabilah Islam, was endorsed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

  • Two Republican women are the front-runners in a primary in South Carolina’s First District, vying to challenge Representative Joe Cunningham, who flipped the Charleston-based seat in 2018 in a long-shot Democratic victory. Nancy Mace, the first woman to graduate from the Citadel, is backed by the G.O.P. establishment; Kathy Landing was endorsed by the conservative insurgents in the House Freedom Caucus.

  • West Virginia Democrats will choose between three candidates for governor who represent the various wings of the party: Ben Salango, a county commissioner from Charleston, is an establishment favorite endorsed by the state’s major labor unions and Senator Joe Manchin III; Stephen Smith, a progressive in the mold of Senator Bernie Sanders, who carried the state handily in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary; and Ron Stollings, a state senator who is among the few remaining conservative Democrats in elected office.

  • The incumbent West Virginia governor, Jim Justice, was elected as a Democrat in 2016, then switched parties and won the endorsement of President Trump. But he has also faced calls to resign from fellow Republicans, federal investigations and lawsuits against his companies. He is the state’s richest man and rarely spends time in Charleston, the capital. In Tuesday’s G.O.P. primary, his closest competition will come from Woody Thrasher, a former member of his cabinet.

  • In Nevada, Republicans are choosing challengers to Representative Susie Lee in the Third District, which Mr. Trump won by one percentage point in 2016, and Representative Steven Horsford in the Fourth District, which Hillary Clinton won by four points. Mr. Horsford was first elected in 2012, then lost re-election in 2014 before reclaiming the seat in 2018. Both could be competitive swing districts in the fall, though the Democratic incumbents start with significant advantages. Voting will take place almost entirely by mail.

  • In North Dakota, there’s a Democratic primary for the state’s at-large congressional district, which is represented by Kelly Armstrong, a Republican.

Astead W. Herndon reported from Atlanta, and Stephanie Saul from New York. Reporting was contributed by Nick Corasaniti, Catie Edmondson, Reid J. Epstein, Nicholas Fandos, Trip Gabriel and Jennifer Medina.

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