Tuesday’s primary elections were once again marred by serious problems at the polls, especially in Georgia. However, in this case, the issues probably had less to do with the COVID-19 pandemic and more to do with the state’s own ineptitude.
Almost 90 percent of Georgia’s polling places were open on Tuesday, which is far more than in many other states that have held primaries recently. Only one problem: Georgia’s new voting machines, which were put in place after claims of voter suppression in 2018, didn’t work as well as hoped. There’s no evidence of foul play, but the state was clearly not prepared to hold an election with the new equipment.
The state apparently passed on what it deemed the best voting machines available, opting for a cheaper vendor that had never installed so much equipment in such a short period of time. And some polling places in Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties opened late because of problems booting up the machines; some didn’t even receive the necessary equipment until after polls were supposed to open. Poll workers in Columbus also had trouble setting up the ballot printers, which they blamed on lack of training due to the coronavirus. And at one precinct, workers spent an hour trying to figure out how to insert the cards that record votes into the new machines — before figuring out they were putting them in upside-down.
There were also numerous reports of voting machines simply not working, which led to some of the longest lines. The problems seemed to be most acute in metro Atlanta, raising fears of problems assuring equal voting access in the general election.
Officials soon started finger-pointing, with the secretary of state’s office saying there were no actual malfunctions, just user error. But county elections officials sniped back that the secretary’s office had failed to adequately prepare them. By the end of the day, both Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and state House Speaker David Ralston had announced they were opening investigations into what went wrong.
The problems were so severe that many polling places stayed open late: Voters had until 9 p.m. to get in line in Fulton County, and one precinct in DeKalb County was open until 10:10 p.m. This meant results were reported late, so many Georgians went to bed not knowing who won many of the day’s key elections. Georgia’s marquee contest was likely the Democratic primary for Senate, but investigative filmmaker and former House candidate Jon Ossoff may have fallen just short of avoiding an August runoff — based on results as of 8 a.m., he had 49 percent of the vote, but many votes remain outstanding in metro Atlanta, where he performed well. If there’s a runoff, it’s not yet clear who Ossoff would face — former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson was at 15 percent while 2018 lieutenant governor candidate Sarah Riggs Amico had 13 percent.
Georgia also had a number of competitive congressional primaries. In the 7th Congressional District, physician Richard McCormick appears to have avoided a runoff for the GOP nomination in this Atlanta-area open seat, with 55 percent of the vote and 97 percent of precincts reporting. The Democratic race, on the other hand, appears to be headed to a runoff as the 2018 nominee Carolyn Bourdeaux fell a bit short of 50 percent. She will face state Rep. Brenda Lopez Romero. Meanwhile, the GOP primaries in the solidly Republican 9th and 14th congressional districts will require runoffs as well. In the 9th Congressional District, state Rep. Matt Gurtler and gun store owner Andrew Clyde advanced from a crowded field with only about 20 percent each, and in the 14th Congressional District, businesswoman Marjorie Greene and neurosurgeon John Cowan both advanced, although Greene won substantially more of the vote (41 percent vs. 20 percent). Lastly, it looks as if the safely blue 13th Congressional District will also feature a runoff, with Democratic Rep. David Scott winning 47 percent of the vote against former state Rep. Keisha Waites, who had 31 percent.
Other states holding primaries yesterday also experienced problems, albeit not on Georgia’s scale. At least a few voters in South Carolina and West Virginia did not receive the absentee ballots they requested. And there were also reports of long lines in South Carolina and Nevada. However, that probably had more to do with the pandemic than problems like Georgia’s. For instance, Nevada announced that it would hold a predominantly mail-in primary months ago, but with its culture of in-person voting, that meant some long lines in the one polling place open in Reno’s Washoe County (home of 315,646 registered voters) and the three in Las Vegas’s Clark County (1,331,067 registered voters). By contrast, South Carolina managed to open around 2,000 of its usual 2,250 polling places, but some were understaffed, leading to long waits. And the consolidation of several precincts into the same polling place caused poorly trained poll workers to give some voters ballots for the wrong state House district.
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Nevada results were late to arrive, as in-person voting was kept open late to accommodate the crowds of voters still waiting in line, but here’s what we know about the two House races we were watching. In Nevada’s 3rd District, it looks as if former wrestler Dan Rodimer is on track to defeat former state Treasurer Dan Schwartz, 44 percent to 33 percent. That means Rodimer will now likely face Democratic Rep. Susie Lee in November in this swing district. In the 4th District, the picture is less clear as a fair number of votes are outstanding in Clark County, but former state Assemblyman Jim Marchant is in the lead with 34 percent of the vote, although insurance agent and veteran Sam Peters is not too far behind at 30 percent.
In South Carolina, one of the more talked-about House primaries ended up being rather one-sided. In South Carolina’s 1st District, state Rep. Nancy Mace won the Republican nomination, defeating Mount Pleasant Town Councilwoman Kathy Landing by a little over 30 points. That means Mace will now face Democratic Rep. Joe Cunningham in a seat Trump carried by 13 points in 2016, according to Daily Kos Elections, making it one of the top GOP targets in the House. She will also give Republicans an opportunity to expand their small number of women representatives — currently just 13 of the 197 Republicans in the House are women.
And finally, West Virginia didn’t end up with much drama in its Republican primary for governor. Even though Gov. Jim Justice won his seat in 2016 as a Democrat before switching parties in 2017, he still easily dispatched his two main rivals to win renomination with 63 percent of the vote. On the Democratic side, however, the Mountain State offered some pizazz as more moderate Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango defeated populist community organizer Stephen Smith by about 6 points, 39 percent to 33 percent. Salango is endorsed by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin — one of the only remaining statewide Democrats in rapidly reddening West Virginia — but he will enter the general election as a big underdog against Justice.