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The Reasons Behind Voting Issues In Georgia


In Georgia yesterday, the lines outside polling places stretched for blocks. Meriva Bowen (ph) in Atlanta says people were camped out in stadium chairs at her polling place as rain showers came and went. She said some voters even had Chick-fil-A delivered right there in line.

MERIVA BOWEN: So they were in line long enough to get on the app, order it and have it delivered with the person actually driving through voters. Someone, like, a Good Samaritan, went to Target and brought us granola bars and water.

SHAPIRO: Bowen waited more than two hours to vote. And in addition to long lines, other voters in the state reported missing or malfunctioning voting machines and a shortage of backup paper ballots. Carol Anderson has studied the long history of voting issues in Georgia. She is Charles Howard Candler professor of African American studies at Emory University. And I asked her what was going through her head yesterday as she saw these problems unfolding yet again.

CAROL ANDERSON: That this is intentional. You have to work really hard to bungle an election the way that this one was bungled, particularly after 2018 where we had lines that stretched for hours, where we had machines that didn't work, where we didn't have enough provisional ballots, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. So that we could end up here again, yeah, you've got to work hard to make that happen.

SHAPIRO: There's a difference between incompetence and intentionality. What makes you say this was intentional?

ANDERSON: That - for instance, for the voting machines that Georgia bought, there were all kinds of warning signs and all kinds of testimony urging the state not to buy these machines, that there was proof that other states had decided not to buy these machines. But Georgia plowed right ahead and spent over $100 million on them. And these machines have created so many problems. So it was already that. It was the way that people had been arguing early on for hand-marked paper ballots and emergency ballots, particularly in the midst of a pandemic, and yet there weren't enough printed when there was already basically a two-month delay between when the primary was supposed to be held and this month because it had been pushed back because of the pandemic - those sorts of things.

SHAPIRO: And what do you make about the fact that this seemed to happen more in majority African American areas?

ANDERSON: One of the ways that this consistently happens is that you have a larger population in those areas. And so if you restrict access to resources in terms of the number of machines, the number of poll workers, the kind of training poll workers can get, the number of polling stations for a much larger community, you can create the circumstances where what we had happen yesterday happened. So the difference is the impact of the size, and that's what we're seeing.

SHAPIRO: You know, one message in all the protests we've been seeing is that voting is the most powerful way to change policy. So what happens when that recourse voting becomes impossible?

ANDERSON: That is something we really don't want to have happen because part of the reason why we're seeing so many people protesting out in the streets right now is because the systems, the institutions of democracy have failed. They have failed to hear, to listen, to respond. And so that the - and when those institutions fail, that puts people out in the street to be heard. When voting becomes blocked, democracy is in an epic fail. And so those who say they believe in democracy, who believe in America, will fix this now.

SHAPIRO: That's Carol Anderson, who teaches African American studies at Emory University.

Thank you for joining us.

ANDERSON: Thank you so much.

SHAPIRO: She joined us on Skype. And a note that we also invited Georgia state officials on the show. They said they were not available to speak with us today.

(SOUNDBITE OF PACO'S "SATIE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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