With the election only four days away, anxiety around voting is at its highest. Many worry for the validity of the election, however – particularly in Georgia. Georgia has a long history of voter suppression problems, and made headlines in 2018 around voter suppression.
From 2012 to 2016, 1.5 million people were removed from Georgia’s voter rolls, or roughly 10% of its voters, for deciding not to vote in previous elections and failing to respond to mailed notices from the state, according to NPR. Between 2012 and 2018, county election officials in Georgia closed 214 polling places, amounting to an 8% reduction, according to the AJC. The AJC also reported that 53 out of 159 counties had fewer precincts in 2018 than they did in 2012, and the majority of those counties – 30 – had “significant African-American populations.”
In the 2018 gubernatorial election between Republican Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacy Abrams, in addition to fewer polling places, there was a severe shortage of voting machines, and what machines did exist often malfunctioned.
Minority communities were particularly hard hit in 2018. According to The Nation, LaTosha Brown, the cofounder of Black Voters Matter, complained that “Georgia’s elections were a HOT MESS! Last voter walked out at 12:37 a.m in Union City.” Union City is a predominantly Black community in South Fulton County, which had the same issues during this year’s primary elections in June. Mainly Black areas had extremely long voting lines (some wait times even extending to five hours) while Brown reported that “white folks are strolling in. On my side of town, we brought stadium chairs.”
According to NBC News, a 2019 research study sought to quantify racial disparity in wait times at polling places in the United States using smartphone data. The study, conducted by researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Chicago, found that voters from all-Black neighborhoods waited 29% longer to vote. Another study conducted by Stephen Pettigrew at the University of Pennsylvania in 2017 determined that nonwhite voters in the U.S. were seven times more likely than white voters to wait in line more than an hour. According to NBC News, the U Penn study concluded that the longer wait times are due to election officials providing more resources to white polling precincts.
Many accusations of the suppression of the Black vote in 2018 revolved around Kemp, who held the role of Secretary of State and refused to give up his seat while running for governor. There were accusations of multiple accounts of outright voter suppression, including voter registrations being put on hold, local voting machines not working, and 3,000 voters being incorrectly flagged as “noncitizen,” according to Vox. NPR reported that the Secretary of State’s office blocked 53,000 voter registrations in Georgia.
Of the 53,000, 70% were Black and 80% were people of color, fueling claims that Kemp was purposefully trying to keep Black people in Georgia from voting. Because Georgia has such a large Black population that tends to vote Democratic, its vote being excluded could have disastrous implications.
According to the Washington Post, Kemp beat Abrams by 1.4%, or 55,000 votes. Just two days before election day, Kemp made the unfounded accusation that the Democratic Party of Georgia attempted to hack the state’s online voter registration and My Voter Page, asking Homeland Security to investigate, according to NPR.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation revealed that there had been no hacking attempt at all. It appeared that Kemp’s office had mistaken planned security tests and a warning about potential election security holes for malicious hacking, as reported by Propublica. This wild claim, accompanied with Kemp’s role as Secretary of State while running for another office cast popular suspicion on his eventual win.
The 2020 primary was much of the same. According to The Conversation, hundreds of voters, many in majority Black areas, waited four, five, and even seven hours to cast their ballots. Police even attempted to send some of them home without having voted. A million and a half Georgians requested absentee ballots, but many never received them. Clearly, Georgia’s problems from previous elections haven’t been solved.
But, this is all in the past, so how is this potentially affecting the presidential election?
As early voting has commenced in Georgia, the recurrence of past voter suppression issues have resurfaced. ProPublica reports that many in majority non-white neighborhoods have seen an increase in line length, due to an increase in registered voters and a decrease in available polling places. In Union City, it took five hours for some voters to even enter the building. One voter claimed that by the time she did, the polls had closed, and she had to cast a provisional ballot.
These problems have discouraged many people of color (POC) from voting. The long lines and possibility of wasting one’s time makes it deeply unappealing. Many believe that the difficulty of voting in majority Black communities could have major repercussions on the Nov. 3 election. According to ProPublica, metro Atlanta, which is majority Black, has nearly half of the state’s active voters but only 38% of the state’s polling places. The AJC reported that, as of Oct. 18, a major problem occurred with the state’s technical voting system, causing lines up to eight hours in many of the majority Black counties.
This brought major frustration across the internet, one election advisor, Misty Hampton, lamenting that she “[wished] THE STATE PREPARED ENET FOR THE BIGGEST ELECTION OF ENET’S LIFE. WE CAN NOT EVEN ENTER THE APPLICATIONS.” However, as the week progressed, the problems were somewhat alleviated, wait times being diminished to generally beneath two hours. As voter turnout increases, though, many worry that the issues have not been properly addressed.
Photo: Voters in Union City wait for hours to vote during the primary election in Georgia in July. Photo: Eric Frazier