Long Lines Prompt Lawsuit Threats To Keep Georgia Polling Places Open Later

ATLANTA, GA - JUNE 09: People wait in line to vote in Georgia’s Primary Election on June 9, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - JUNE 09: People wait in line to vote in Georgia's Primary Election on June 9, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. Georgia, West Virginia, South Carolina, North Dakota, and Nevada are holding primaries amid the co... ATLANTA, GA - JUNE 09: People wait in line to vote in Georgia's Primary Election on June 9, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. Georgia, West Virginia, South Carolina, North Dakota, and Nevada are holding primaries amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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June 9, 2020 4:48 p.m.

A voting rights group issued a “pre-litigation” demand to four Georgia counties that they extend polling place hours as voters waited in line for several hours to cast ballots Tuesday.

“In our view, the only way to right this wrong is to give people a longer opportunity to vote today,” Kristen Clarke, the president of National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, told reporters on a press call Tuesday afternoon, adding that she hoped the counties would extend their hours “voluntarily.”

The demand came after reports that polling places were understaffed and overwhelmed Tuesday, in the latest indication the election officials face serious challenges as they prepare for November’s election in a pandemic.

Because of the coronavirus outbreak, polling places have been consolidated, as election officials struggled to find volunteers — who tend to be older — to work them or locations to host them.

Some Georgia precincts were set to serve up to 10,000 voters due to the consolidations, the Washington Post reported.

While Georgia attempted to mitigate this issue by sending absentee ballot applications to voters, several voters showed up to cast ballots in person on Tuesday because they never received their mail-in ballots, according to reports.

Reports of missing mail-in ballots were particularly widespread in Fulton County, where local elections preparations ground to a halt after a local election official died from COVID-19. Sure enough, Fulton County has seen some of the worst of the lines Tuesday, though long waits were reported elsewhere in the state.

Compounding the issue is that Georgia is also implementing new election technology Tuesday, and the issues that poll workers have had in operating the new machines has further slowed down the voting process. Some polling places opened late on Tuesday morning due to struggles related to the new equipment, according to reports.

Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said Tuesday amid the chaos he was launching an investigation into problems reported in Fulton and DeKalb counties, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Lawyers Committee requested that Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb and Gwinnett counties keep their polling places open later on Tuesday. Polling places in Georgia are scheduled close at 7 p.m. which usually means that anyone who is line by 7 is allowed to vote. Clarke said that her group was requesting the hours be extended so that people can show up later than that to cast ballots.

“There are voters who could not vote because their polling place was closed or could not endure a wait time of more than two hours to cast their ballots,” Clark said. “It’s about giving people a second chance to return to their polling place and get a chance to vote. We know there are frontline workers and people who have jobs and family needs that, maybe, a second trip back to the polls will be incredibly difficult.”

When reached by TPM, Cobb County Elections Director Janine Eveler said the county was planning on extending their hours and was in the midst on working on the court papers to do so.

A Fulton County spokesperson acknowledged the request but had no further comment “while this is in flux.” Representatives from DeKalb and Gwinnett counties didn’t respond to TPM’s inquiries.

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