Has anything in the world of politics been more stressful than the 2020 election season? If the reality TV drama that was the presidential race wasn’t enough, the Georgia Senate runoff elections are shaping up to be a battle between folks who just want to cast their ballots and folks who seem hellbent on making voting as inconvenient as humanly possible.
Civil and voting rights groups have been warning that polling site reductions—such as the elimination of half the early voting locations in Cobb County, Georgia’s third largest county—will slow voter turnout, especially among Black and Latino voters. Now they’re saying their concerns are being proven valid.
From NBC News:
More than a dozen groups publicly appealed to elections officials in Cobb and Hall counties this week while The New Georgia Project, a nonpartisan organization devoted to voter registration efforts and promoting civic engagement, took legal action over early voting issues in four other counties.
“During the first couple of days of early voting, the data has shown that the harm to voters remains severe, Cobb County has had extremely long lines — in some cases as long as two hours. At the same time, the overall turnout in Cobb has gone down,” Michael Pernick, an attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund (LDF), said in an interview Thursday. He added that some counties without big cuts to early voting, including Fulton County, had seen an uptick in early voting compared to the same period in the general election.
According to Reuters, state data released Friday shows that, between early in-person voting and mail-in voting, which started about four weeks ago, more than 1.1 million Georgians have voted in the two Senate runoff elections so far. That puts the number of cast ballots “just below the level seen at the same point in early voting for November’s election,” Reuters reports.
Still, the wait times to vote are of major concern to voting rights advocates who don’t appear to be buying the explanation that staffing shortages are the cause for the reduction of early voting locations in Cobb County as well as Hall County, which announced earlier this month that it will be reducing its early voting locations from eight to four, according to NBC.
“Reducing the number of advance voting locations for the runoff election, when turnout is expected to be high and COVID-19 is raging, has already had a foreseeable detrimental impact on Hall County’s ability to provide smooth election operations and voters’ ability to vote safely and securely,” reads a letter sent to Hall County officials Wednesday by voting rights groups including Latino Justice, Hispanic Federation and LDF.
Hall County Public Information Officer Katie Crumley defended the county’s reduction in early voting sites saying that the four locations still operating are sufficient for a Senate runoff and that the holiday season mixed with the pandemic has made election staffing difficult.
Cobb County Communications Director Ross Cavitt told NBC that the wait times at the county’s five polling sites have been “less than an hour” and that they’d added additional check-in stations at each site to speed the voting process.
“We have been happy to see wait times at our five advance voting facilities well below what we experienced for the November General Election,” Cavitt said.
But voting rights advocates insist that the reduction in voting sites is doing significant harm to voter turnout.
More from NBC:
The advocates said data posted by the Georgia secretary of state’s office showed early votes were down in Cobb County by nearly 5 percent in the first two days of early voting. Fulton, Gwinnett, and DeKalb counties did not make “significant cuts” to early voting, they said, and saw early voting up in the first two days by 25 percent, 40 percent, and 12 percent, respectively.
On Tuesday, the New Georgia Project, aided by Democrats’ top voting rights attorney Marc Elias, filed four lawsuits against four other counties: Clarke, Houston, Paulding, and Bibb County. The group alleged that those counties were illegally cutting early voting access mandated by law.
Clarke County officials have since announced they will add early voting on Saturday, Dec. 19.
At this point, Jan. 5 can’t come fast enough. Let’s just hope every citizen who wishes to vote gets a chance to do so.