Tag Archives: primaries

Plagued with problems, Georgia primaries raise concerns about November U.S. presidential election

Voters endured heat, pouring rain and waits as long as five hours on Tuesday to cast ballots in Georgia, demonstrating a fierce desire to participate in the democratic process while raising questions about the emerging battleground state’s ability to manage elections in November when the White House is at stake.

A confluence of events disrupted primary elections for president, U.S. Senate and dozens of other contests.

The polls were staffed by fewer workers because of concerns about the coronavirus. A reduced workforce contributed to officials consolidating polling places, which disproportionately affected neighbourhoods with high concentrations of people of colour. Long lines were also reported in whiter suburban areas.

Some voters said they requested mail-in ballots that never arrived, forcing them to go to polling places and adding to the lines. Turnout, meanwhile, may be higher than expected as voters said they were determined to vote following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., and the ensuing demonstrations that swept cities including Atlanta.

Former U.S. vice-president Joe Biden easily won the state’s Democratic presidential primary. He was facing no real opposition but hoped to post a strong showing among Georgia’s diverse electorate to show his strength heading into the general election.

There was also trouble with Georgia’s new voting system that combines touch screens with scanned paper ballots.


Voters wait in a line that stretched around the Metropolitan Library in Atlanta. (Steve Schaefer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via The Associated Press)

The developments were troubling heading into the fall presidential campaign, which will attract even more voters. President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden are expected to fiercely compete in this rapidly changing state. That leaves officials, who have already been criticized for attempting to suppress the vote, with less than five months to turn things around.

The state’s chief elections officer, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, announced plans to investigate voting problems that plagued Fulton and DeKalb counties, where roughly half the population is black.

Investigation ordered

Republican House Speaker David Ralston directed leaders of the House Governmental Affairs Committee to investigate the “unacceptable deficiencies” across the state, particularly in Fulton County.

Benaiah Shaw, who joined the protests against police brutality after Floyd’s death, said he votes in every election but had never waited as long as he did on Tuesday — five hours.

“It’s really disheartening to see a line like this in an area with predominantly black residents,” said Shaw, a 25-year-old African American. He said he was appalled by how few voting machines were available.

Americans were also voting in primaries in West Virginia, Nevada and South Carolina. But the tumult in Georgia garnered much of the attention, reinforcing concerns about managing elections amid the coronavirus.

The Biden campaign called the voting problems in Georgia “completely unacceptable,” and a threat to American values of free and fair elections.

“We only have a few months left until voters around the nation head to the polls again, and efforts should begin immediately to ensure that every Georgian — and every American — is able to safely exercise their right to vote,” said Rachana Desai Martin, the campaign’s national director for voter protection and senior counsel.

Long waits in Wisconsin, Washington

Voters were also forced to wait hours to cast ballots in recent primary contests across Wisconsin and Washington, D.C. While there were no reports of machine malfunctions in other states on Tuesday, the number of voting places was dramatically reduced in virtually every state that has held in-person voting in recent weeks to accommodate a drop in poll workers.

Even before Georgia voters ran into problems, Raffensperger warned that results may be slow to come in because of poll closures and virus restrictions.

Outside a recreation centre being used as a polling site in Atlanta, some voters said they had been waiting for nearly four hours in a line that wrapped around the block. At another site off Atlanta’s Piedmont Park, several people walked up, looked at the line wrapped around the parking lot and then left, shaking their heads in frustration.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said voters in line at one of Atlanta’s largest precincts reported all the machines were down. She encouraged voters not to give up.

“If you are in line, PLEASE do not allow your vote to be suppressed,” the mayor tweeted.

Georgia being closely watched

The problems weren’t just limited to the Atlanta area. In Savannah, Mayor Van Johnson said he was “inundated” with phone calls Tuesday morning from voters reporting “extensive delays.” Election officials in surrounding Chatham County said voting hours at 35 precincts were being extended by two hours.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said he wasn’t surprised that Georgia had voting problems given that the state’s elections chief is a Republican. He noted that Republican Gov. Brian Kemp faced allegations of suppressing votes when he oversaw the 2018 elections as secretary of state.

“Republicans want to ensure that it is as hard as possible for people to vote,” Perez said in an interview.

Kemp was largely silent about the voting problems on Tuesday, aside from retweeting a message from his wife urging people to vote.

Georgia hasn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1992, but the state is being closely watched by Trump and Biden. The former vice president, in particular, hopes to emerge as the prime beneficiary of energy from the African American community and its white allies, who have held massive protests for more than a week.

His path to the presidency was already focused on maximizing black turnout and expanding his alliance with white suburbanites and city dwellers, young voters, Asian Americans and Latinos. Trump, meanwhile, hoped to demonstrate strength among his base of white voters in small towns while holding his own in metro areas.

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Bernie Sanders to ‘assess his campaign’ after Joe Biden wins 3 more primaries

Bernie Sanders was trying to determine his next moves on Wednesday, after Joe Biden swept to victory in Florida, Illinois and Arizona and seized a commanding lead in a Democratic presidential race upended by the coronavirus.

The Vermont senator’s campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, said Sanders “is going to be having conversations with supporters to assess his campaign.” But Shakir also suggested his candidate is no hurry to make any decisions about dropping out, noting that “the next primary contest is at least three weeks away.”

More immediately, Sanders “is focused on the government response to the coronavirus outbreak and ensuring that we take care of working people and the most vulnerable,” Shakir said in a statement.

Even if Sanders ultimately decides to keep running, however, he has little hope of catching Biden — especially in a political world turned as upside down as much of the rest of society amid efforts to combat the spreading virus, which has killed at least 115 people in the United States.

Neither candidate is travelling or holding campaign rallies, and much of the electorate has been staying home. Indeed, Biden’s third big night in as many weeks on Tuesday came amid tremendous uncertainty about how an already severely disrupted Democratic primary will proceed.

Polls were shuttered in Ohio, and election workers and voters reported problems in the three states where primaries went forward, all of which Biden easily won. The former vice-president now seems on a glide path to the nomination, his delegate lead over Sanders nearly insurmountable. Top Democratic leaders and donors have also increasingly lined up behind Biden as the best option to square off against President Donald Trump in November.

Using a livestream to address supporters from his home state of Delaware, Biden seemed ready to move past the primary. He paid tribute to the Vermont senator for advancing key issues including affordable health care and combating climate change.

WATCH: Joe Biden discusses leadership amid the coronavirus pandemic:

Former vice-president Joe Biden talks about how the coronavirus pandemic requires leadership and how Americans’ choices will make a big difference to the outcome. 1:09

“Sen. Sanders and his supporters have brought a remarkable passion and tenacity to all of these issues. Together they have shifted the fundamental conversation in this country,” Biden said. “So let me say, especially to the young voters who have been inspired by Sen. Sanders, I hear you. I know what’s at stake. I know what we have to do.”

With the exception of North Dakota and the Northern Mariana Islands, Sanders hasn’t scored a victory since Super Tuesday on March 3. He made no moves to contact Biden immediately after Tuesday’s results, according to people familiar with the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak for the candidates. During online remarks before most results were in, Sanders said little about the future of the race.

Also Tuesday, Trump formally clinched the Republican presidential nomination after facing minimal opposition. But much of the action was on the Democratic side, where higher vote totals in some key states suggested enthusiasm that even the coronavirus couldn’t contain. Turnout in Florida’s Democratic primary surpassed the 1.7 million who cast ballots four years ago.

Some Democrats are now calling on Sanders to drop out in the name of party unity, but Sanders’s advisers have suggested he won’t rush to do so, betting that the political landscape could look different as the virus continues to reshape life across the country. Four years ago, Sanders kept an insurgent primary bid against Hillary Clinton going for months, even as it became clear he had no chance of winning.

Biden, meanwhile, maintained strength in the latest three states to vote with African Americans and older voters, who have been the hallmark of his campaign. He also appeared to chip away at Sanders’s previous advantage with Hispanics that helped him win Nevada and California early in the race.

In Florida, Latinos made up roughly 20 per cent of Democratic primary voters, and they largely sided with Biden. The former vice-president received the support of 62 per cent of Puerto Rican voters and 57 per cent of Cubans, according to AP VoteCast, a broad survey of primary voters.

Disruptions due to coronavirus

Still, going forward, the primary will be disrupted by the public health and economic havoc wreaked by the coronavirus.

For most people, the novel coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the virus.

Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez blasted Ohio for closing polls on such short notice, sparking confusion. But he also urged states with upcoming primaries to expand vote-by-mail and absentee balloting, as well as polling station hours — trying to ensure the primary continues, at least in some form.

“The right to vote is the foundation of our democracy, and we must do everything we can to protect and expand that right instead of bringing our democratic process to a halt,” Perez said in a statement.

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Biden strengthens lead in Democratic race with projected wins in Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi primaries

Joe Biden was projected to take Tuesday night’s biggest primary prize — Michigan — along with decisive wins in Missouri and Mississippi, dealing an early blow to rival Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on a night when six states were up for grabs.

Celebrating his early victories, he told supporters near his Philadelphia campaign headquarters, it was “another good night” and “a step closer to restoring decency, dignity and honour to the White House.”

In a subdued tone, Biden reached out to supporters of struggling rival Bernie Sanders, thanking the Vermont senator and his following “for their tireless energy and their passion” and their common goal: to “beat Donald Trump.”

Back in 2016, Sanders scored an upset that lent much-needed credibility to his 2016 primary challenge of Hillary Clinton — and where U.S. President Donald Trump’s victory four years was so narrow that Democrats are desperate to show they have the strength to flip it back.

But Biden made a final push there in recent days, rallying autoworkers and touting a fresh round of high-profile endorsements.


From left, U.S. Democrat presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and former vice-president Joe Biden. (Chip Somodevilla, Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

Despite the early losses, Sanders could get a boost from North Dakota, Idaho or Washington state, where votes were still being counted. But his campaign announced Sanders would not speak publicly Tuesday night. 

Adding to the tension of incoming results was fears about the spread of the coronavirus outbreak. Both Sanders and Biden hastily cancelled events they’d scheduled for Tuesday night in Cleveland, and the Democratic National Committee announced that an upcoming debate in Arizona on Sunday would be held without a live audience “at the request of both campaigns and out of an abundance of caution.”

Tuesday marked the first time voters weighed in on the Democratic contest since it effectively narrowed to a two-person race between Sanders and Biden. It was a test of whether Sanders can broaden his appeal among African Americans after earlier setbacks in the South. Biden, meanwhile, sought to show that he can keep momentum going after his surprise Super Tuesday turnaround.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard remains in the race, but has only two delegates so far. She has not qualified for the Sunday debate. 

Biden now frequently ticks off the names of six former presidential rivals who have endorsed him just in the past week, saying he is “the candidate that they think can win.” The former vice-president has campaigned in recent days with two of them, Sens. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, and appeared with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. All three have have been mentioned as possible vice presidential picks.

Following Biden’s strong showing Tuesday night, former candidate Andrew Yang also added his name to the Biden endorsement list. 

Battleground Michigan

With 125 delegates at stake, Michigan got most of the attention Tuesday. Trump won the state by only about 10,000 votes during the general election in 2016, and Democrats are eager to take it back.

A win for Biden might show his party he can do it again against Trump in November. 


Jill Biden, centre, wife of Joe Biden, elbow bumps young supporters on Tuesday, in Lansing, Mich. (Matthew Dae Smith/The Associated Press)

Although he has rejected notions he could drop out of the race if Tuesday goes badly, Sanders was visiting polling stations in Detroit on Tuesday, scrounging for late-breaking supporters. He’s said he’s now battling the “Democratic establishment” and scoffed at suggestions that so much of the party’s elite supporting his opponent means Biden is more electable.

“In a general election, which candidate can generate the enthusiasm and the excitement and the voter turnout we need?” Sanders asked. “If you want to defeat Trump, which all Democrats do and the majority of independents do and some Republicans do, we are that campaign.”

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