Absurdly Long Lines to Vote in Georgia Are a Preview of What’s to Come

Noble Horvath

Back in June, Georgia’s twice-delayed primary turned into a full-scale meltdown: Polling places were slow to open; voting machines reportedly didn’t show up, or if they did, were out of order. And voters, particularly in predominantly Black areas, waited in exceedingly long lines to cast their ballots. “It is emblematic,” […]

Back in June, Georgia’s twice-delayed primary turned into a full-scale meltdown: Polling places were slow to open; voting machines reportedly didn’t show up, or if they did, were out of order. And voters, particularly in predominantly Black areas, waited in exceedingly long lines to cast their ballots. “It is emblematic,” former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, a voting rights advocate, told the New York Times, “of the deep systemic issues we have here in Georgia.”

The state’s primary mess over the summer added to fears about voter suppression in the general election this fall. It had already been the “epicenter of the voter suppression battle,” as the journalist Ari Berman has described it — home to voter purges, polling place closures, and voting restrictions. But the coronavirus pandemic added another layer to it all, bringing with it more confusion and more opportunities for disenfranchisement. “Yes, changes need to be made for public health reasons,” Debo Adegbile, the lawyer who argued Shelby County v. Holder in the Supreme Court, told the Times last month. “We’re concerned that these changes will be used as an excuse to impose barriers on minority voters in a way that could not have happened had Shelby County not been decided the way it was decided.”

The first day of early voting in Georgia on Monday was both a confirmation of those fears and a reason for cautious optimism, as voters in the state endured long waits to make their voices heard. Georgians once again found themselves waiting in hours-long lines to exercise their right to vote, with some reporting 11-hour queues to cast ballots.

The long waits, images of which circulated online Monday, were not limited to heavily Democratic areas; as the Washington Post reported, some small conservative counties were also beset by delays. But, the Post reported, lines were longest in blue areas, which critics blasted as voter suppression.

Officials, however, said the huge lines did not reflect systemic barriers to the ballot, but rather a surge in turnout. “We’re seeing extreme and tremendous turnout on the ground and around the state,” Jordan Fuchs, deputy to Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm around this election, and you’re going to see high turnout. Because of that, we’re going to see lines.” Nearly 130,000 voters showed up to cast ballots Monday, a record for the first day of early voting in the state, the Journal-Constitution reported.

That turnout, and the fact that many voters did not let the unconscionable waits keep them from voting, is encouraging. “If I’ve got to wait six or seven hours, that’s my duty to do that,” one voter told the Guardian, citing the sacrifices the late John Lewis and others made to fight for the franchise. “I’ll do it happily.” But the fact that voters in what purports to be a democracy need to wait outside for hours — in a pandemic — to exercise their rights is obscene. Indeed, voters may “happily” spend hours in line to make their voice heard, but they shouldn’t have to, and many won’t. “While we were there, many people were leaving,” a 73-year-old who waited five hours to vote in Gwinnett County told the Post. “They just got tired. They just left.”

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