Key Georgia primaries to be decided after ‘unacceptable’ voting problems

Key Georgia primaries to be decided after ‘unacceptable’ voting problems

Polling places are remaining open in some parts of Georgia for at least two extra hours after numerous problems with voting machines and long lines as voters attempted to participate in the state’s primary election on Tuesday.

The contests on the ballot included nationally watched races for Senate and House, but results in the state aren’t expected until late Tuesday night, with some polls kept open until 9 p.m., and voters expected to be standing in lines even after that time.

In Georgia, voters across the state — but especially in and around Atlanta — have encountered long lines and voting delays. Several voters and voting-rights advocates told POLITICO that people waited for hours at polling places where voting materials or machines either didn’t arrive on time or weren’t functioning.

The problems in Georgia also led to a back-and-forth blame game between officials in the state. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and his office called the issues “unacceptable” and placed the blame on local election officials in a handful of counties, saying they were ultimately responsible for training poll workers and voters in other parts of the state were able to conduct their election with minimal problems. Officials in those counties fired back that the buck needed to stop with Raffensperger, the state’s chief elections officer.

The most consequential race in Georgia was the Democratic Senate primary. Jon Ossoff entered as the frontrunner, leading by a wide margin in public polls in the closing weeks. But the race will go to a runoff in August if Ossoff cannot capture a majority of the vote. Teresa Tomlinson, the former mayor of Columbus, is considered the likeliest opponent in a potential runoff, though businesswoman Sarah Riggs Amico is also in contention.

Ossoff, who lost a high profile House special election in 2017, has run on an anti-corruption message and relied on his fundraising prowess and name identification from the House race to boost his bid. He also has endorsements from Reps. John Lewis and Hank Johnson. Tomlinson has largely run on her experience as mayor, arguing the party should nominate a candidate who has won previous elections and served in government.

National Democrats have not weighed in on the primary, despite their general strategy of endorsing candidates in races that are considered a priority as they seek to win back the Senate. If the race goes to a runoff, it’s unclear whether national Democrats will weigh in on the race.

Regardless of who wins Tuesday or if the race goes to a runoff, Perdue will start with a hefty financial edge. He has $9.4 million in the bank as of May 20, while Ossoff had the most among Democrats with $950,000.

Both parties will choose nominees in two suburban Atlanta House battlegrounds that will feature expensive races this November. In one district, former Rep. Karen Handel (R-Ga.), who beat Ossoff in the 2017 special election, is expected to easily nab the Republican nomination, setting up a rematch with Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.).

McBath, a gun-control advocate whose son was murdered in Florida, beat Handel by 1 point in the midterms, ending Handel’s brief stint in Congress.

Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans are hosting contested primaries in an open neighboring seat, which was the closest House race in the country in 2018. GOP Rep. Rob Woodall is retiring after coming within 450 votes of being ousted.

Voters were also going to the polls Tuesday in four other states: South Carolina, West Virginia, North Dakota and Nevada.

In South Carolina, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) easily won his primary — in contrast some of his more competitive nomination fights against conservative challengers — and will face Democrat Jaime Harrison, who ran unopposed in the Democratic primary.

House Republicans avoided a runoff in the state’s 1st District, where state Rep. Nancy Mace, the first female graduate of The Citadel, won the nomination outright to take on Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-S.C.), one of the most vulnerable members in Congress. President Donald Trump won his Lowcountry seat by 13 points.

The top race in West Virginia was party-switching Gov. Jim Justice’s bid for a second term. Justice was first elected as a Democrat in 2016 — but, encouraged by President Donald Trump, he switched his registration and became a Republican less than a year into his term. He easily won Tuesday’s primary and will face the winner of the Democratic contest, which was still up for grabs Tuesday night.

In Nevada, Republicans are selecting nominees in two Las Vegas-area House seats held by Democratic Reps. Susie Lee and Steven Horsford. Lee, one of 30 Democrats in a district that Trump won in 2016, is likely to face either a former state treasurer or a former professional wrestler.

The long in-person voting lines in Georgia came even as the state saw a massive swell of mail-in voting. Raffensperger’s office mailed absentee ballot request forms to every active voter in the state. As of Monday, a record 943,000 voters had returned an absentee ballot, a drastic increase for a state that usually sees around 40,000 mail-in voters.

Stacey Abrams, one of the most prominent Democrats in the state, was sharply critical of Raffensperger. “We found ourselves in the midst of both incompetence and maleficence,” she said at a press conference. “And unfortunately the secretary of state is now trying to shift the blame and he’s trying to create a pretext that only a few counties are being impacted, and that this is a localized problem.”

Georgia was not alone in adapting to holding an election during a pandemic. Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, a Republican, mailed every active voter in her state a ballot, while Clark County, home to more than seven-in-10 of the state’s voters, went a step further and mailed ballots to voters labeled as “inactive” after national Democrats filed a lawsuit. Inactive voters are voters who don’t return an address confirmation card from election officials or haven’t voted in the past four years, The Nevada Independent reported at the time.

Even still, some voters in Nevada did vote in person and similarly faced long lines. Some voters told The Associated Press that they waited up to five hours to vote.

In Nevada, mail ballots that are postmarked by Election Day and received with a week will count, meaning a late surge in ballots could swing close elections.

Laura Barrón-López contributed to this report.

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