Georgia’s June Election Meltdown, the Battle Over Voter Suppression, and the November Elections



From a reader:

Georgia’s June 9 primary elections were, in the words of one poll worker, “a complete meltdown,” particularly in Atlanta, and in a few other voting districts where most of Georgia’s Black and Brown people live.1 Voting machines were either not delivered or broke down and there were no technicians on site to fix them. At one location there were 15 touch screens on which to vote, but only one machine to electronically process them after they were cast. Many people who had applied for mail-in ballots (many more than usual because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic) never received them or they arrived in unusable condition, so people had to go to the polling station anyway. People waited in lines for as much as five hours—in one district until after midnight. Lines snaked around the block in many locations, and some people—facing health, job, or childcare concerns—had to give up and leave.

In Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward—where Martin Luther King grew up—the New York Times reported that a woman showed up at her polling station before its 7 am opening time. “Three hours later, she was still waiting in line, having moved about 60 feet from where she had started.” Another woman there who suffered from bronchitis and asthma “said she had requested an absentee ballot but never received one. ‘I refuse not to be heard and so I am standing in line.’”

Problems continued after the voting was finished—elections experts “expressed concern” that Georgia’s system “failed to count some mail-in ballots marked with check marks or X’s instead of filled-in ovals. Some county officials believe that thousands of votes could remain uncounted.” And the winner of one contest was not announced until late the next night.

A History of Racist Voter Suppression and a Plan for Stealing an Election

These problems did not come out of nowhere—they are the latest episode of the long-running and intentional efforts of the Republican Party (which is today the party of white supremacy and fascism) to suppress the votes of people of color, not just in Georgia but around the U.S. Since the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, Republican-controlled states like Georgia have been coming up with one scheme after another to stop Black and Brown people from voting.2

For instance, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, between 2012 and 2018, Georgia “shut down 8% of Georgia’s polling places and relocated nearly 40% of the state’s precincts,” leading to longer lines and people being unable to get to the new polling stations. This reduced turnout by as much as 80,000 voters, and “Black voters were 20% more likely [than whites] to miss elections because of long distances.” Georgia also “implemented an ‘exact match’ system that could disqualify voters for minute differences between their registration forms and other government documents,” and this too fell “disproportionately on minority voters.” Then Georgia purged 1.4 million voters from the rolls, often without notifying them. Because of this, many people showed up at the polls on June 9 thinking they were registered, only to find out they’d been struck from the list!

But it’s not just about trying to suppress the vote—this “election meltdown” also fits into the concerted effort by Trump and his allies to delegitimize the upcoming presidential elections. Trump is working to create a situation of confusion and doubt about the outcome that will provide an opening for him to claim that the election was “rigged” if he loses, or to claim that the results cannot be determined, and that therefore he should remain in power. And in doing this, he would very likely call on his “Second Amendment” people (like the militias that stormed statehouses in April) and federal paramilitaries (like those he sent to crush protest in Portland) into the streets to back him up.

What Went Wrong on June 9

To begin with, it’s important to say that holding elections during a pandemic already presents a lot of problems. On the one hand, in order to make voting safe, polling stations, ballot boxes, and voting machines have to be cleaned repeatedly, fewer people can be allowed inside at one time, and people in lines should be safely distanced from each other. And a lot of the people who are experienced at running voting sites are older, and are staying away because of the pandemic. And on the other hand, an unprecedented number of people are voting by mail—again, to avoid infection. While voting by mail is quite common (and secure) in the U.S. already, the process of collecting and counting three or four times the usual number of mail-in ballots requires scaling up those operations in a big way.

So if your objective was to hold a reasonably fair election, then the responsible authorities would have to put a lot of time, thought, energy, and money into making it happen. But what went on in Georgia was just the opposite.

The biggest problem was that Georgia introduced entirely new electronic voting machines across the state for this primary. A non-partisan group that monitors elections, and even a group backed by the conservative billionaire Charles Koch, publicly warned the state that this was asking for trouble and recommended paper ballots as cheaper and more secure. (One expert commented that installing this new system for a major primary “would be like Walmart deciding that they wanted to change out their point-of-sale system on Black Friday.”)

Yet not only did Georgia go forward with the new machines, but the state did minimal training—one participant described the session the day before the election as a one-hour video that “you needed an IT professional to figure it out.” The state assigned only a little more than one technician per county to help with problems with the new system. And there were problems galore, including the machines overloading the electrical systems and blowing fuses at polling stations.

Like Lauryn Hill said (in “Lost Ones”), “Consequence is no coincidence”! This looks an awful lot like a “test run” for how to fuck up an election, minimize the number of Black and Brown voters, and create massive frustration, confusion, and doubt about the results.

Voter suppression and election “delegitimization” are at this time key elements of the fascist drive to consolidate power, and need to be exposed and opposed by all who want to prevent that from happening.


1. “[T]hose nine counties that had the biggest issues on Tuesday, they’re not only Democratic areas, but those are the counties that have the largest minority populations in the state.” Astead Herndon, New York Times national political reporter, June 11, 2020. [back]

2. See The New Voter Suppression, Brennan Center for Justice, January16, 2020; American Crime Case #11, Part 2: 1965 to Today: Gutting the Voting Rights Act and Disenfranchising Millions of Black People, May 25, 2020 at [back]



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