Georgia: Chaos engulfs voting in White House battleground

(BBC) – The US state of Georgia has ordered an inquiry after its primary election was marred by claims of voter suppression.

Within minutes of polls opening on Tuesday, long queues formed in the city of Atlanta, with some residents waiting hours to cast their vote.

Some areas also reported shortages of the new voting machines and a lack of back-up paper ballots.

Voters were choosing candidates for November’s general election, for which the primary is seen as a preview.

US President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden are expected to compete hotly for Georgia in the forthcoming battle for the White House.

Nevada, South Carolina, West Virginia and North Dakota also voted on Tuesday amid the coronavirus pandemic and unrest unseen since the 1960s.

What happened in Georgia?

Voting sites saw queues grow immediately after opening on Tuesday, in part because of social distancing. But the delays were also due to severe technical issues that made it impossible for some locations to cast any ballots.

Atlanta’s Democratic Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms took to Twitter in the morning to report that residents across the city and some suburbs were turning up to find that voting machines “are not working”.

“If you are in line, PLEASE do not allow your vote to be suppressed,” she continued, amid reports that frustrated residents were leaving. “PLEASE stay in line.”

Georgia Congresswoman Lucy McBath also alleged “voter suppression” was the reason for the massive delays, tweeting: “Unacceptable. Our citizens have a right to vote. Plain and simple.”

What did voting officials say?

Before voting was finished for the day, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who is in charge of state elections, opened an investigation into the way voting was conducted in Fulton and DeKalb counties.

In an interview with WAGA-TV, he called the situation “unacceptable” and promised “to determine what these counties need to do to resolve these issues before November’s election”.

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, who is like Mr Raffensperger a Republican, has also called the state legislature to investigate the voting issues.

What was the problem?

Mr Raffensperger said the problems were due to a variety of factors, including the lack of experienced poll workers who stayed away over fears of the coronavirus.

This is Georgia’s first election with a new $104m (£81m) voting system, which introduces paper ballots to the state’s elections for the first time in 18 years, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper.