ATLANTA — Hundreds of Georgia residents showed up to vote Tuesday morning, only to find hours-long waits and malfunctioning voter machines.
The problems, reported at polling stations in counties near Atlanta which have large black and Democrat populations, compounded the simmering political tensions surrounding the race for Georgia governor. Polls have shown Democrat Stacey Abrams, who would become the country’s first black female governor, in a virtual tie with Brian Kemp, a Trump Republican and current secretary of state, who’s in charge of election security. In recent weeks, Kemp has tried to stoke fears over voter fraud.
Voters showed up to at least three polling stations in Gwinnett County — the second largest county in the state, about 30 miles from Atlanta and 24 percent black — to discover that voting machines were not working properly. Instead, voters were provided with provisional ballots.
The technical glitches were the source of widespread conspiracies about voter suppression, given the demographics of the county, and the county’s importance to securing either candidates’ victory.
“There’s a saying in Georgia: 'So goes Gwinnett County, so goes the governorship’,” Gabe Okoye, chairman of the Democratic Party in Gwinnett County, told VICE News. “I was told that some people were here for five hours before voting. That is completely unacceptable because some of them actually left and had to go to work.”
The polling station at Anderson Livsey Elementary School in Snellville, also in Gwinnett County, initially wasn’t provided with power cords, NBC News reported. Instead, the machines were running on batteries, and once the batteries ran out, the machines shut down. Appropriate power cords were retrieved, and machines were up and running again by 9.15 a.m.
At another location in Fulton County, just five miles north of Atlanta, only three voting machines were reportedly functioning. The more than 300 people in line to vote were told the wait would be more than two and a half hours. A spokesperson for the county told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the situation was resolved as quickly as possible, and more voting machines were delivered.
Georgia, which saw a record high turnout in early voting for a midterm election, has become a battleground for voting rights in recent months. Two million people cast their ballots early in Georgia – more than double compared to 2014, when 945,507 people voted early.
Just last week, a federal judge overturned the state’s “exact match” rule, which required that the identifying information on a person’s voter registration form had to exactly match the information in the state’s Department of Driver Services and Social Security Administration. Democrats were concerned that the rule could impact people whose citizenship statuses had changed or were pending. As Georgia’s current secretary of state in charge of voter security, Kemp vehemently supported the law.
For some Georgia voters, the federal judge’s decision may have come too late.
Vernon Leroy Pullar Sr. told VICE News that when he checked his voter registration on Tuesday with officials in Henry County in Atlanta’s metropolitan area, he found that he’d been purged from the rolls, despite voting in every election since 2010.
Since the 2016 election, Pullar and his family, including his son who has the same name, moved 22 miles south from Clayton County to Henry County. When he went to register as a voter in Henry County, he gave his name as “Vernon Leroy Pullar Sr,” (adding his middle name and suffix) so that he and his son didn’t get mixed up.
His sister, Pat Pullar, who’s a Democratic party official, suspects that her brother may have been caught up in the “exact match” dragnet because the state agencies have his name listed as just “Vernon Pullar.”
As election day neared and political tensions simmered, Kemp looked to weaponize concerns over the integrity of the voting system. Two days ago, he announced, without any evidence, that he was opening an investigation into allegations that Democrats were attempting to hack the election in Georgia.
In Gwinnett County, where the machines were malfunctioning Tuesday morning, Elections Board Chairman Stephen Day — one of the two Democrats appointed to the board — told VICE News that he doesn’t believe that the problems were due to foul play.
“The Election Division staff, as I have observed in my over five years on the board, works in a very unbiased, nonpartisan, professional manner,” Day told VICE News in a text. “Any issues that arise on Election Day are the result of mechanical failures and/ or human error as often arise in any undertaking of this scope.”
The DOJ deployed monitors to 35 jurisdictions in 19 states, including Gwinnett and Fulton County in Georgia, to ensure compliance with federal voting laws, according to a Monday press release. Staff from the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division will also be available all day to receive complaints from the public about possible violations of federal voting laws.
In response to whether the Civil Rights Division was aware or responding to voting problems in Gwinnett County, spokeswoman Sarah Isgur-Flores told VICE News in an email Tuesday that they don’t confirm or deny investigations.
Cover image: Electronic voting resumes Tuesday afternoon at Annistown Elementary School in Snellville, Georgia, after a malfunction left poll workers unable to check voters in and resulted in delays of more than four hours for some voters. (Leo Jaurez for VICE News)