Long lines, blame-trading in Georgia as five U.S. states hold primaries

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Some voters experienced hours-longs waits to cast ballots 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.

State and local officials traded blame as poll workers grappled with new voting systems and coronavirus precautions that made lines longer. Georgia’s Democratic Party said it had received reports of problems “in every corner of the state.”

“I waited for three hours,” said Callie Orsini, 26, who added she stood in line with hundreds of people in Atlanta’s Midtown neighborhood on Tuesday morning. She said some people in line had requested absentee ballots but had not received them, and it took longer for poll workers to process them.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger called the voting situation in parts of Fulton and Dekalb counties including Atlanta “unacceptable.” His office opened an investigation.

“Obviously, the first time a new voting system is used there is going to be a learning curve, and voting in a pandemic only increased these difficulties,” Raffensperger, a Republican, said in a statement. “But every other county faced these same issues and were significantly better prepared.”

But the voter rights group that Democrat Stacey Abrams founded after narrowly losing a run for governor in 2018, Fair Fight, said responsibility fell on Raffensperger, “who has failed to provide Georgia’s counties with the training needed to conduct today’s election.”

Voters in Nevada, South Carolina, North Dakota and West Virginia also took part in primaries amid a trio of national crises. Widescale protests have erupted across the United States recently over the high-profile killings of African Americans, including George Floyd in Minneapolis and Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia, as the country also grapples 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.

Georgia and West Virginia also have presidential primaries on Tuesday, 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.

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