Tuesday, June 9, 2020, will be an Election Day that thousands of Georgia voters may remember for years to come. Like so much else of 2020, it was an unpleasant surprise, complicated by promises to the contrary, foul weather, and in many places rank incompetence.
But I digress, let's back up and come at this as the situation on the ground evolved. Following the 2018 General Election in Georgia, several legal actions were filed, with a successful few having a major and lasting impact on Georgia elections. The most significant of those came in a federal court decision from U.S. District Court Judge Amy Totenberg, directing the state of Georgia, and the office of Georgia Secretary of State that no further elections could be held using the Direct Recording Electronic voting machines (DRE's) after December 31, 2019. Though Judge Totenberg did NOT require Georgia to move to full paper balloting as the plaintiffs were seeking, the order effectively scrapped 27,000 of the old DRE machines heading into an election year.
The Presidential Preference Primary, set for late March of 2020, typically has a turnout of between 25-35% of registered voters and advance voting was already underway, when a little something called the COVID19 pandemic was announced on Tuesday, March 17, 2020, and by Executive Order, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp issued an Emergency Order to shelter in place, closing schools, governments, and thousands of places of business statewide. The pandemic also ended in-person training on the newly selected voting equipment from Dominion Voting Systems all across the state in mid-March.
Without spending a lot of time on the finger-pointing which followed the disastrous June 9 General Primary Election Day and night, with final results still being tabulated as of this writing due to the record number of nearly 1.3 million absentee and advance votes, ballot tabulation is a local elections office responsibility, as are precinct locations and staffing, deployment of voting machines, printers and scanners and managing the actual elections process.
There are 159 very able County Election Superintendents, overseen by local boards of election, as well as several dozen more Municipal Election Superintendents and registrars in larger cities.
Having spent five years in the office of Secretary of State during the administration of then SOS, Max Cleland, I can tell you that challenges with tabulating, late poll openings and extended hours, primarily once concentrated in north Fulton County suburbs, date back as far as the mid-1980s.
Fulton is Georgia's most populous county, just over 100 miles long from end to end, and contains roughly 10 percent of all registered voters, but in 20 years of providing political analysis and commentary, I cannot remember an election night when Fulton County unofficial tabulation results were not the very last to be completed.
The pandemic also cost Fulton County the use of more than 40 precincts, some withdrawing only days prior to the Primary. With the average age of poll workers in Georgia being 70, prior to this election, hundreds of experienced precinct captains and poll workers followed the Governor's continuing Shelter in Place order for those medically frail or over the age of 65, and they stayed at home. This election, with brand new equipment, would also feature hundreds of lightly trained Millenials, stepping into part-time paid and volunteer roles, with hundreds also never having actually seen or touched the new equipment in person...only having YouTube videos and Zoom/Skype training sessions to prepare for this Election Day.
Add social distancing rules, on and off-again torrential rain and precincts moved without voters receiving notification and you have all the ingredients of a perfect storm to form a cluster ____.
So after the well-deserved pride and bluster of the new equipment roll-out, came the cluster and system failure on Election Day. NOW it's time to muster the resources, reinforce and schedule more training, and perhaps look at reducing some steps in the new voting process, as well as even more strongly recommending advance and absentee balloting for the November General Election.
Georgia has been again held up to international ridicule, in part due to a hangover of election/alleged voter suppression reporting and opinion in 2018. The only real way to ever shake away that shadow is to run a model, efficient and well-managed election this fall. Not doing so will have negative impacts for the state and both political parties, as well as potentially causing irreparable harm to voter confidence in one of the bedrocks of our republic, the right, and the importance of each and every individual ballot and vote. This one matters too much to spend another day playing the blame game. Just fix it.