“I would have waited all day if I had to”: Hours-long lines mar first day of early voting in Georgia

Critics accused Georgia of "voter suppression." State officials blamed "record turnout" and voter "enthusiasm"

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published October 13, 2020 2:25PM (EDT)

People stand in line on the first day of early voting for the general election at the C.T. Martin Natatorium and Recreation Center on October 12, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)
People stand in line on the first day of early voting for the general election at the C.T. Martin Natatorium and Recreation Center on October 12, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

Some Georgia voters were forced to wait more than 10 hours to cast their ballots on the first day of early voting in the state. 

There were several reports of technical glitches, but state officials said the hours-long waits primarily were the result of "record turnout." Some voters braved lines for up to 11 hours on Monday.

Nearly 128,000 Georgians voted on Monday, up from 91,000 in 2016, according to the secretary of state's office. While the first day drew high turnout, the Atlanta Journal Constitution noted that 253,000 voted early in a single day on the Friday before Election Day four years ago.

Georgia, which saw similar wait times during a primary impacted by shuttered polling sites and a shortage of workers, has shut down 214 polling places since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013. Critics accused the state of "voter suppression" in response to videos showing long lines on Monday.

"This is a picture of voter suppression," former Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., tweeted. "Why do Americans have to wait in lines this long?"

Previous poll closures disproportionately impacted communities of color, though it is unclear whether the same trend continued on Monday.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger's office said the long waits were unsurprising because of voter "enthusiasm."

"Georgia is seeing record turnout for early voting because of excitement and enthusiasm of the upcoming election," Raffensperger spokesman said Walter Jones told CNN. "Long lines are to be expected — voters need to be aware of all of their options, including three weeks of early voting, no-excuse absentee and in-person voting day of the election."

But technical difficulties did contribute to the delays. Voting at the Atlanta Hawks' State Farm Arena was delayed for about an hour due to a glitch with electronic pollbooks used to check in voters, multiple individuals reported.

"I am very upset that we were put into this position," Hawks CEO Steve Koonin told CNN. "That's why we required people on site, and I'm glad to say it got resolved quickly."

"It was a little frustrating," Atlanta voter Adrienne Crowley told AJC.

But voters were generally prepared for the waits — and eager to make their voice heard.

"I would have waited all day if I had to," Crowley said.

Cobb County voter Steve Davidson said he could not leave, because the late Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., and other civil rights figures had fought for too long to give Black voters like himself the right to vote.

"They've been fighting for decades. If I've got to wait six or seven hours, that's my duty to do that," he told the Associated Press. " I'll do it happily."

"I think the positive thing is that there's a lot of people out there waiting to vote," Fulton County elections director Rick Barron told Georgia Public Broadcast. "We expected to have lines on the first day — a lot of people have been anxious to vote for a long time — so we were expecting this."

"We're seeing extreme and tremendous turnout on the ground and around the state," Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs told AJC. "There's a lot of enthusiasm around this election, and you're going to see high turnout. Because of that, we're going to see lines."

More than 600,000 voters have already cast their ballots in Georgia, including about 470,000 who have voted by mail. The state is expected to be one of the key swing votes in the upcoming election. President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden are separated by about one to two points in recent polls, and the Cook Political Report has rated both of its Senate races as toss-ups.

Election experts predicted that the lines would improve once the early rush died down.

"Early voting gives people a choice when they wish to vote, a large number of people are enthusiastic to vote at the first chance they get, thus long lines," University of Florida professor Michael McDonald said on Twitter. "Ironically, they report high satisfaction with their voting experience. Lines will shorten after the initial rush."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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