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Opinion: Voting must work better statewide come November
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Voters take part in the primary election Tuesday, June 9, 2020, at the North Hall Community Center. - photo by Scott Rogers

Like helplessly watching out-of-control vehicles sliding helter-skelter toward each other on an icy winter road, we all knew Tuesday’s primary election in Georgia was going to be a wreck before the first polls ever opened.

We just didn’t have a clue of how massive a pile-up it was going to be.

The stage was certainly set for a perfect storm of problems – two different elections combined into one and twice postponed, brand-new voting machine technology, some 25 times more absentee ballots cast than was the case four years earlier, socially distanced lines of voters combined with the need to constantly sanitize equipment, a shortage of poll workers, precincts closed or relocated.

Statewide, it would have taken an abundance of good fortune for things to have gone smoothly, and 2020 hasn’t exactly been a year marked by an abundance of good fortune.

Before the first winner was ever announced Tuesday night, the national news media was having a field day pointing out what a disaster voting had been in Georgia, and complaints of “voter suppression” were loud and repetitive.

Locally, however, the story was different.

The Times editorial board

Staff members

  • Norman Baggs, general manager
  • Shannon Casas, editor in chief

Community members

  • Cheryl Brown
  • David George
  • Brent Hoffman
  • J.C. Smith
  • Tom Vivelo
  • Mandy Harris

The Hall County Elections office, led by Director Lori Wurtz, escaped  the tribulations that affected so much of the state. 

Despite some pre-election issues with ballot wording and some voters’ problems in obtaining absentee ballots, the actual  voting and tallying of results on Tuesday went off fairly smoothly  locally, for which all of those involved in the process are deserving of recognition for a job well done.

Unfortunately that wasn’t the case in all of Georgia, especially in some of the state’s largest metro counties, where the ineptness of Tuesday’s balloting has resulted in a lot of finger-pointing as all of those involved try to blame someone else for the problems that existed.

Beyond winners and losers, there were some lessons to be learned and observations to be made after Tuesday’s general primary. Among them:

  • Gainesville and Hall County voters apparently are more than satisfied with the jobs being done by the local school systems and confident in the systems’ stewardship of educational sales tax funds, having again approved an ongoing E-SPLOST as well as bond issues to speed funding for capital construction projects. The margin of victory on those votes despite high levels of unemployment and uncertain economic times is indicative of the area’s commitment to better schools and faith in school leadership.
  • It never pays to bet against incumbents, no matter how unsettled things may seem on Election Day. Hall County incumbents breezed fairly easily to either presumptive re-election or nomination to November’s general election ballot, and with few exceptions the same typically was true across the state. The demand for sweeping change does not always mean voters will revolt against the status quo, nor is it necessarily true that they should.
  • Any issues with the methodology of the new voting machines were lost in the tsunami of other problems, but in general they seemed to work as expected and to be user friendly. Whether they will quiet the critics who mistrust electronic voting options remains to be seen.
  • There could soon be a legislative revamping of electoral responsibilities in the state. Now, the secretary of state’s office is responsible for holding elections statewide, but each individual county’s election office is responsible for all the details of making sure they go off without a hitch. After Tuesday’s fiasco, state officials immediately asked for more control over what happens at the local level, while local officials complained of a lack of state support.
  • The allegations of “voter suppression,” are going to become increasingly strident with each new problem in the voting process, regardless of the issue, regardless of who makes voting decisions, regardless of facts. Don’t be surprised if there is a concerted effort to again involve the federal Justice Department in an oversight capacity for voting issues in the state, as once was the case under the federal Civil Rights Act.
  • The popularity of absentee voting is likely to grow now that thousands have been allowed to do so for the first time. Expect a push to loosen the rules on when and how voters can use an absentee ballot, and don’t be surprised if there is popular support for more voting by mail, regardless of those concerned with the security of doing so.

Regardless of the factors that combined to create Tuesday’s problems, there is little doubt that Georgia is going to be a battleground for election reform in the months to come, as critics push for massive changes in how elections are held. Much of that bluster will be politically motivated rather than based on polling efficiencies and the realities of casting a ballot, and there is a high likelihood that “inconvenience” will be misconstrued as “suppression.”

Nevertheless, the state only has about four months to make sure it doesn’t repeat Tuesday’s problems come November’s general election. That isn’t time enough for sweeping procedural reform, so someone had better figure out how to make the systems we do have in place work the way they should.