The state’s primary election twice delayed by the coronavirus pandemic finally happened Tuesday. It set records for the most absentee votes of any Georgia election but the combination of new electronic voting machines and fewer precincts open in some counties caused issues and delays. Voting was extended to 9 p.m. or beyond in Savannah and a couple of suburban Atlanta counties.
Democratic leaders blamed the Republican Secretary of State who ran the election for the problems while a spokesman for President Trump’s campaign blamed Georgia’s vote-by-mail push to minimize crowds on election day -- also orchestrated by Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger -- alluding to the president’s unfounded claims that absentee voting yields widespread fraud.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Raffensperger laid blame elsewhere, noting state law charges counties with the on-ground operation of elections.
Raffensperger, minimizing problems that were documented in other counties including Chatham, promised investigations of Fulton’s and DeKalb’s handling of the primary. The Republican speaker of Georgia’s state legislature, meanwhile, called for an investigation of the entire primary process, singling out Fulton County as "particularly” troubling.
“It’s really specifically in one or two counties, in Fulton and DeKalb counties, that had these issues today,” Raffensperger told the Associated Press. “It has nothing to do with what we’re doing in the rest of Georgia.”
Raffensperger noted that county officials train poll workers, but that was complicated during the COVID-19 guidelines for social distancing and other precautions and some larger counties said they didn’t have enough poll workers to open as many precincts as they have in the past. That contributed to long lines and elections officials keeping precincts in some places open beyond the usual 7 p.m. closing time.
On absentee ballots, he pushed unprecedented no-fault absentee access, paying to send an application to every Georgian on the active voter rolls. But no additional money was provided to hire staff to process the influx, which dwarfed the typical prima
“I know that in these hyperpartisan times, half the people will be happy, and the other half will be sad,'' Raffensperger said. "But we want to make sure that 100% of people know ... the election was done fairly and we got the accurate count.”
The victors and what’s next
When the numbers finally started coming in Tuesday night, it was no surprise that Vice President Joe Biden got 83% of the vote in the hardly-relevant Democratic presidential preference primary. President Donald Trump got 100% of the Republican vote as he was the only candidate on the presidential ballot. Trump got more total votes (806,428) than Biden (684,070), but fewer people voted for Trump than the total for Democratic presidential candidates (812,710) as of totals on the Georgia Secretary of State’s election website on Thursday morning.
Georgia Democrats did narrow the field of seven vying to challenge incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue to two: Jon Ossoff, a documentary filmmaker, and Teresa Tomlinson, the former mayor of Columbus. They advance to a runoff on Aug. 11.
Few were surprised that Coastal Georgia’s member of Congress -- U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter -- comfortably beat two Republican challenges to advance to the November ballot. He will also have to wait until August to know which Democrat he will face in November. In preliminary results, Lisa Ring, a former corrections officer and Democratic activist who co-chaired Bernie Sander’s Georgia campaign, and Joyce Griggs, a former Teamsters truck driver who now runs a beauty boutique, each received 43% of the vote.
State Senate District 3, which covers Brantley, Camden, Glynn and eastern Charlton counties, will also go to a runoff. Three Republicans were competing for the seat Sen. William Ligon is leaving and David Sharpe and Sheila McNeill each got more than 40% of the vote.
A couple of Southeast Georgia races were settled after Tuesday’s voting. Buddy DeLoach defeated incumbent Republican Jeff Jones in state House District 167 and there is no Democrat in the race. And two sheriff’s races were settled in the primary: Robert Phillips defeated fellow Republican Clay Burnett to take become the top law enforcement officer in Charlton County when long-time Sheriff Dobbie Conner retires at the end of this year. In Brantley County, incumbent Sheriff Len Davis easily won re-election over fellow Republican Philips Popwell and there is no Democratic challenger.
See full results of all the statewide and Southeast Georgia races: Congressional, legislative and statewide races | Brantley County | Camden County | Charlton County | Glynn County | Pierce County | Ware County | Statewide party ballot questions