WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Voters reported long lines and problems with equipment in Georgia on Tuesday as Democrats went to polls to pick a nominee in a competitive U.S. Senate race, one of five states choosing candidates for the White House and Congress.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and former Mayor Kasim Reed reported problems with voting machines not working and long lines that started forming as soon as the polls opened at 7 a.m. (1100 GMT).
Georgia’s Democratic party said it had received “countless reports of widespread voting issues in every corner of the state” and blamed the secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, for not having provided adequate training and support for a new voting system.
“I waited for three hours,” Callie Orsini, 26, who said she stood in line with hundreds of people in Atlanta’s Midtown neighborhood. She said a number of people in line with her had requested absentee ballots but not received them, and it took longer for poll workers to process them.
Raffensperger had warned ahead of the election that voters could face long lines because of coronavirus precautions, with voters standing 6 feet (2 m) apart, as well as the new voting system.
In a statement on Tuesday, his office said many precincts were functioning normally, but that some equipment had been delivered to wrong locations, and late.
“We have reports of poll workers not understanding setup or how to operate voting equipment,” the statement said.
The voting was taking place amid a trio of three national crises. U.S. cities over the past two weeks have seen large-scale protests against high-profile killings of African Americans, including George Floyd in Minneapolis and Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia, while coping with a pandemic that has killed more than 110,000 people and thrown tens of millions out of work.
Jon Ossoff, 33, leads a large field of Georgia Democrats seeking the party’s nomination to take on Republican Senator David Perdue, three years after Ossoff nearly won a former Republican stronghold in the most expensive U.S. House of Representatives race ever.
Ossoff’s campaign ads have seized on the pandemic to attack health insurance companies, and he refers to Arbery’s death as an impetus for criminal justice reform.
Ossoff faces six other Democrats, including former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and Sarah Riggs Amico, the 2018 lieutenant governor nominee. He needs 50% of the vote to avoid an Aug. 11 runoff for the nomination. Perdue has no primary challengers.
The other states voting Tuesday are Nevada, South Carolina, North Dakota and West Virginia. Georgia and West Virginia also have presidential primaries, though former Vice President Joe Biden has secured enough votes to take on Republican President Donald Trump in November.
The spread of the coronavirus forced several changes in procedures. Nevada sent ballots to voters for an all-mail election, while North Dakota, Georgia and West Virginia sent applications for absentee ballots to voters to provide the option of voting by mail. South Carolina voters can get the application online.
In South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District, the first female graduate of The Citadel military college is vying with three other Republicans for the nomination to challenge freshman Democratic Representative Joe Cunningham. In 2018 he was the first Democrat to win the coastal district in decades.
Citadel graduate Nancy Mace, a 42-year-old state legislator who worked for Trump’s 2016 campaign, has emphasized her ties to the president, who won the district handily in 2016. Also on the Republican ballot is financial planner Kathy Landing and the founder of “Bikers for Trump,” Chris Cox.
Reporting by Susan Cornwell in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone, Matthew Lewis and Jonathan Oatis