A state House committee probing issues that occurred during the June 9 primary elections in Georgia released a report Thursday outlining stumbles with absentee ballots and the state’s new voting machines that prompted long lines and steep concerns ahead of the Nov. 3 general election.
The report, compiled by the Georgia House Governmental Affairs Committee, recommended tighter coordination between the Secretary of State’s office and local elections boards to prevent and respond to problems, as well as extending the amount of time local officials have to count absentee ballots.
The House committee’s report followed four days of testimony in June and August from Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, his staff, poll workers, county election officials, poll watchers and state lawmakers.
State Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, was one of the speakers, as was a Floyd County poll watcher. Rep. Eddie Lumsden, R-Armuchee, sits on the committee.
More than 1.6 million Georgians applied for absentee ballots ahead of the primary after state officials decided to send every registered voter an application form for the primary, which led to a historically huge number of mail-in votes.
But many voters testified to not receiving their absentee ballots at all after requesting them, according to the House report. In some cases, applications were sent to deceased voters or to incorrect addresses.
Voters who applied for absentee ballots but chose to vote in-person on Election Day also contributed to long lines since they had to formally cancel their mail-in ballots prior to voting at a polling place, the report noted.
Raffensperger’s office has repeatedly attributed the brunt of absentee-ballot issues to Fulton County election officials who were overwhelmed with a wave of mail-in requests and struggled to process ballots on Election Day.
Additionally, the House report released Thursday included testimony on printer failures, ballot scanners and “general malfunctions” with the state’s new voting machines.
The primary elections marked the biggest tests of the new $104 million ballot-marking devices that rolled out earlier this year after the General Assembly passed legislation requiring that the state’s old voting machines be replaced.
According to the House report, insufficient training for poll workers on the new machines ahead of the election led to issues involving delays with troubleshooting the machines and “a lack of clear instruction for machine usage” during the primary.
The COVID-19 pandemic also threw a major wrench into the equation, the report found. With fewer poll workers and voting locations, plus unsure training for some workers, the health concerns caused by the virus “contributed to less training opportunities and longer waits on Election Day,” the report says.
“Many of the issues caused by COVID-19 served to compound the other delays and problems that were reported from Election Day,” the report says.
The report recommends local election officials create contingency plans ahead of elections and coordinate more closely with the Secretary of State’s office to improve training. Local officials should be allowed to count absentee ballots at the start of early voting, the report recommends.
It also recommends making sure each polling place has enough electricity to handle their voting machines, creating an absentee-ballot tracking program to reduce the need for in-person cancellations and requiring polling places to have paper ballots on hand in case of equipment issues.
The general election on Nov. 3 is poised for much larger turnout than the primaries with a presidential contest, both of Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats, Congressional, state and local offices all on the ballot.
Raffensperger’s office is pushing to increase the number of poll workers to reduce the chances for the sort of long lines and know-how issues that were seen in the June 9 primaries.
Absentee ballots have started being mailed out to voters who requested them for the Nov. 3 election. Early voting begins Oct. 12.