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Voters See Chaos At Georgia Primary Elections

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Georgia's brand-new $104 million voting system did not have a smooth rollout on Tuesday, which meant some voters waited in line for more than five hours to cast their vote. This in a state viewed by both parties as up for grabs in November. We're joined now by Emma Hurt. She's a political reporter at member station WABE in Atlanta. Emma, good morning. We saw these huge lines of people with - filled with voters who are trying to cast their ballots. I mean, these lines were there till after 10 p.m. What's going on? What happened?

EMMA HURT, BYLINE: Morning. Yeah. I mean, yesterday was pretty close to the nightmare scenario for an election. You've got the coronavirus pandemic - right? - which forced consolidation of polling places at the last minute. We lost about 10% of them across the state. We had experienced - elderly poll workers have to back out. A lot of poll workers didn't show up. Some tested positive for COVID-19. And then Georgia had its new voting machine system, like you said, in its first major statewide test. So there was a learning curve there. And a lot of it had to happen with virtual trainings. And while more than a million people cast their ballots absentee, it was an unprecedented strain on counties. And it didn't work for everyone, so some people had to go to the polling place anyway.

MARTIN: So you were out there. What did the voters who were in those lines for that long, what did they tell you?

HURT: You know, considering the humidity, the rain that was on and off yesterday and hours that a lot of people had to wait in line, those that I spoke to were largely in good spirits. There was some help with that from volunteers who were handing out water, beer, snacks, dry shirts. But there was a big discrepancy between polling places. So I'd be at one that was empty, no problems. And a couple miles away, you'd have one clogged with five-hour lines. Angela Larkin (ph), for example, was two hours into waiting to vote in Union City, Ga. She said her co-worker left work the same time as her, voted a few towns over, and it took her seven minutes.

ANGELA LARKIN: We got off work at the same time. I spoke to her on the phone the whole time she was getting in line - seven minutes. She sent me a picture - empty. Nobody is there - seven minutes. We got to go through this.

HURT: And, you know, the question hanging over it all is, who didn't vote because of the lines, right? People who couldn't get off work, people who have little kids. Not everyone can can stand in line for hours.

MARTIN: Right. And this isn't the first time that we've heard about an election meltdown in Georgia. I mean, this is - we were talking about something similar in 2018, right?

HURT: Yeah. There there are some flashbacks to that. There were long lines in that race too, and results were in question for a while as ballots continue to trickle in because of some of the issues. Democrats then and now are alleging voter suppression. And really, the bottom line seems to be the problems are rooted in confusion and poor administration - regardless of who's actually to blame - and motivation some might assign to that.

MARTIN: Has anyone taken responsibility?

HURT: There's a lot of finger-pointing right now, so unclear. Some fingers pointing towards the Georgia secretary of state, which manage the implementation of new voting machines. And the secretary of state points to the fact that counties actually manage Georgia's election, blamed human error at the county level for issues with machines. And with Georgia having potentially two competitive Senate seats up for grabs in November, there are major implications for November and a lot of pressure from both parties on these races and the results coming in right.

MARTIN: Emma Hurt, political reporter at member station WABE in Atlanta. Thank you, Emma.

HURT: Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.