Georgia's elections were a catastrophe, but they weren't an accident

Georgia's election debacle was a disaster many saw coming. Will Republican officials take steps to fix the problem ahead of November?
Image: Steven Posey
In Georgia, voters reported wait times of three hours.John Bazemore / AP
Get the Msnbc newsletter.
SUBSCRIBE
By Steve Benen

The all-caps banner headline in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reads this morning, "Complete Meltdown." The phrase refers, of course, to yesterday's primary elections in Georgia, which were, by any fair measure, a cringe-worthy fiasco.

Georgia's primary quickly turned into an ordeal for voters who waited for hours Tuesday when it became clear officials were unprepared for an election on new voting computers during the coronavirus pandemic. Poll workers couldn't get voting machines to work. Precincts opened late. Social-distancing requirements created long lines. Some voters gave up and went home.

This was, the AJC added, a test of Georgia's elections system. The state failed that test spectacularly.

But let's not mistake a catastrophe for an accident. As Rachel explained on the show last night, this was a disaster that many saw coming: Georgia's 2018 elections were a mess, as then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R), administering his own gubernatorial election, kicked hundreds of thousands of voters off the ballot rolls, leading to widespread breakdowns and dysfunction.

In the cycle's wake, Kemp, in his capacity as governor, set out to replace all of the Georgia's voting machines, hiring an electronic-voting-machine company that hired Kemp's former campaign manager as a lobbyist. The company had never tackled a project of this scale, but it nevertheless tried to roll out the largest and fastest installation of elections equipment in American history.

That effort obviously -- and predictably -- didn't work. And in case that weren't quite enough, the most severe problems were found in Georgia counties where people of color are in the majority.

It's an indefensible dynamic regardless of location, but let's not forget that Georgia is likely to be a battleground state this year -- and not only at the presidential level. Georgia is also home to two U.S. Senate elections, which may very well determine which party is in the majority in the upper chamber in 2021 and 2022.

If the Peach State can't properly administer a primary election, imagine the nightmarish scenario that's slated to unfold in the fall, when turnout is vastly higher, and the direction of the United States' future may hinge on the integrity of Georgia's election results.

Looking ahead, it's also difficult to know where to look for signs of hope. Georgia's Republican-led state government helped create the mess; Republican-appointed justices on the U.S. Supreme Court helped pave the way for the mess by gutting the Voting Rights Act; the U.S. Justice Department hasn't shown any interest in protecting the franchise since 2017; and Donald Trump's White House is actively involved in an aggressive campaign to make voting more difficult in the hopes that it will increase the odds of the president holding onto power.

Indeed, watching footage out of Georgia yesterday, I found myself thinking about White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, who suggested two weeks ago that there's something noble about Americans having to wait in long lines in order to cast a ballot.

"People are very proud to show up and go to the polls," Conway said, presumptively describing the feelings of people she does not know. She added, "They wait in line at Georgetown Cupcake for an hour to get a cupcake. So I think they can probably wait in line to do something as constitutionally significant as cast their ballot."

But those Georgians waiting for hours -- some, into the night -- to cast a ballot didn't want a cupcake; they wanted to participate in their own democracy. It's outrageous that they were subjected to such treatment; it's equally outrageous that so many Republican officials will see what happened in Georgia and do little more than shrug their shoulders.