Anatomy of an Election ‘Meltdown’ in Georgia

Come Election Day, the extra time afforded by the delay didn’t help. At a recent state House hearing, Danielle Wynn, a poll watcher in Floyd County, which borders Alabama, testified that three of the four ballot-marking devices at her location failed at one point. Poll workers were also unprepared for a flood of questions about absentee ballots that voters had requested but not received, and unsure what to tell those who brought completed ballots to the polls. “Many voters just opted to leave without voting,” she said.

Carol Beckham, manager of a small polling site in Carroll County, said confusion over absentee ballots was “just an abysmal failure” that the state might have helped with more public outreach. And problems she faced getting a ballot-marking device to communicate with a printer “would’ve caused chaos” in larger precincts, she said.

Jonathan Banes, a precinct manager in DeKalb County, said he had had only a rudimentary tutorial on the new voting machines in February, followed by an online refresher. “We didn’t go into troubleshooting scenarios on how to deal with technical issues,” he said, adding that he had been shown basics like how to “turn the machines on, turn them off — that’s it.”

That left him and a depleted crew of poll workers unable to start their equipment without outside help. “At the local and state level, there’s just not great coordination,” he said.

The state’s most populous county, Fulton, was overwhelmed by absentee-ballot requests. Election offices also briefly closed after a worker became fatally ill with the coronavirus. Richard L. Barron, the county’s elections director, likened the dual effort of mailing ballots and conducting in-person voting to running two elections simultaneously — all with a pandemic-depleted staff.

Fulton voters waited weeks for absentee ballots from the county that never came, or arrived damaged. After waiting a month for an absentee ballot, Jon Ossoff, who would win the state’s Democratic Senate primary, waited four hours to vote early on June 5 at the C. T. Martin Natatorium in Atlanta. He returned home to find that his absentee ballot had finally arrived. Ms. Abrams said hers came with a return envelope that was sealed.

“There are a myriad of things that happened,” Robb Pitts, the chairman of the Fulton County Board of Commissioners, said in an interview, including that at the 11th hour some longtime polling venues decided against welcoming voters amid the pandemic.