Georgia election ‘catastrophe’ in largely minority areas sparks investigation

Hourslong waits, problems with new voting machines and a lack of available ballots plagued voters in majority minority counties in Georgia on Tuesday — conditions the secretary of state called “unacceptable” and vowed to investigate.

Democrats and election watchers said voting issues in a state that has been plagued for years by similar problems, along with allegations of racial bias, didn’t bode well for the November presidential election, when Georgia could be in play.

“This seems to be happening throughout Atlanta and perhaps throughout the county. People have been in line since before 7:00 am this morning,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, a Democrat, tweeted shortly after polls were supposed to open — and in some cases still hadn’t.

Cody Cutting was in a long line at Lang Carson Community Center in the Reynoldstown neighborhood of Atlanta, where the line snaked around the block and some people had been waiting to cast their votes for 4½ hours.

“People are a bit frustrated, but spirits are still OK. Neighbors are bringing around food, water and chairs,” he told NBC News.

Lengthy waits were reported in other parts of Fulton, DeKalb and Gwinnett counties.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, said the problems “in certain precincts” in Fulton and DeKalb counties were “unacceptable.”

“My office has opened an investigation to determine what these counties need to do to resolve these issues before November’s election,” he said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Senate primary in Georgia is too early to call. In Georgia, candidates must win more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff.

With more than half of the expected vote counted at 1:30 a.m. EDT, Jon Ossoff has approximately 48 percent of the vote. He leads Teresa Tomlinson, who has roughly 16 percent of the vote, and Sarah Riggs Amico, with about 13 percent.

Voting problems in the state also plagued Fulton County in 2018, which led to allegations of voter suppression by Democrats. The secretary of state at the time was Brian Kemp, a Republican, who wound up winning the governorship by a thin margin against Democrat Stacey Abrams. Abrams at the time called the election “rotten and rigged.”

She tweeted Tuesday that “Georgians deserve better.”

“From Jasper to Fulton to Coffee & Chatham, long lines, inoperable machines & under-resourced communities are being hurt,” Abrams wrote, adding that Raffensperger “owns this disaster.”

“He must stop finger-pointing and fix it,” she said.

Democrats have targeted Georgia — which has added 700,000 registered voters to the rolls since 2018 — as a possible swing state in November. Rachana Desai Martin, the national director of voter protection for Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said that what happened Tuesday is “unacceptable” and noted that many voters reported asking for — and never receiving — absentee ballots.

“We only have a few months left until voters around the nation head to the polls again, and efforts should begin immediately to ensure that every Georgian — and every American — is able to safely exercise their right to vote,” said Martin, whose candidate NBC News projected to win the Democratic primary in the state shortly after the official poll closing time. Martin said the Biden campaign “will remain fully engaged in defending” the right to vote.

DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond blamed Tuesday’s issues on Raffensperger, who Thurmond said should be investigated by the governor’s office.

“It is the secretary of state’s responsibility to train, prepare and equip election staff throughout the state to ensure fair and equal access to the ballot box. Those Georgians who have been disenfranchised by the statewide chaos that has affected the voting system today in numerous DeKalb precincts and throughout the state of Georgia deserve answers,” Thurmond said.

Kristen Clarke, president and CEO of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a civil rights group, called the election “a catastrophe.”

“If we view the primary election as a dry run for November, then Georgia gets an F today,” Clarke said.

She said her group has been flooded with calls from “voters who encountered barriers from polling sites that are not open on time, malfunctioning equipment, long lines with several hours’ wait time, insufficient backup paper ballots and more.”

Three-quarters of voters who called with problems identified as African American, Clarke said.

-NBC