The Georgia elections from the eyes of a poll watcher.

 

Long lines were noted across Georgia as reports circulated of closed polling locations, machine failures, and sparse polling location choices. This photo was taken the last day of early voting in Windy Hill Community Center at 1885 Roswell Street SE in Smyrna, in Cobb County. Photo Credit: Photo: JOHN SPINK, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC)

Over 100,000 citizens’ voter registrations purged from rolls solely because of “use it or lose it”.

Over 53,000 registrations slow-walked.

Over 94% of votes cast on unverifiable voting machines, so no individual ballot can be validated, and no audit procedure can be implemented.

A candidate unilaterally setting the rules for his own election.

Poll watchers not allowed in areas that they legally have a right to enter.

It sounds like an election held in an unstable, developing country, but it’s not: it’s the state of Georgia, right here in the USA. And while Georgia is by no means alone in its illegitimate ways, the Peach State is one of the strongest examples of how our electoral system is broken and compromised, and what must change before this most basic of our rights as Americans is eroded to the point of irrelevance.

Don’t believe me? Ask gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who spoke often of the need to ensure all eligible voters had the opportunity to not only cast their ballot but have it counted correctly. She lost to Brian Kemp, who as Secretary of State had authority to oversee all races on the ballot — including his own. Kemp refused calls to recuse himself until several days after Election Day. But this was only the start of the injustices.

I should know. I’m not only a Georgia voter, but I work with election integrity activists — and I was a registered poll watcher on Election Day.  I was there.

I was fortunate enough to get poll watcher credentials for the midterm elections from the Libertarian Party. I’ve researched and studied and seen so many of the barriers, problems and outright thefts of our franchise, that I gratefully took the opportunity to see if our electoral integrity was as bad as electoral activists — and I — made it out to be.

It’s not as bad as it seems. It’s worse.

At one precinct I visited:

  • Passcards needed to record votes on computers had not been tested and did not work, requiring a new batch to be procured, and many voters’ ballots not being recorded at all. No one knows, or could know, which ballots or how many there were.
  • Those voters that did have their ballots recorded had to wait a long time to cast them.  Four and a half hours, in fact.
  • Voters waited for hours to get a provisional ballot because the precinct had run out – because they were forced to use them with the passcard problems, and when getting replacement cards, the poll official did not procure additional provisional ballots.
  • I saw a man being told his precinct was elsewhere, when his wife, living at the same address, was listed as being at the correct precinct.

At another location, poll watchers were denied entry into the area that actually contained the voting computers, even though credentials allow access anywhere inside the precinct.  The poll watcher, activist Marilyn Marks from the Coalition for Good Governance, was only allowed to observe the tabulation from 25 feet away.

At a third location, a precinct with almost 5,000 registered voters, there were only 9 voting computers.  Waits were still over an hour.

It’s no wonder that turnout in Georgia is only 64% — and that’s of registered voters only, not of all voting-eligible citizens. We the People, indeed.

And it all starts with registration. Earlier, I mentioned the 107,000 registrations cancelled because of unfair “use it or lose it” laws. Of the 10 statewide races in Georgia, four of them were won by less than that margin, including the Governor’s race, in which Stacey Abrams herself was almost blocked from voting because the election records indicated that she had applied for an absentee ballot, when she had not.  

In another country, this is a mockery of a just and fair electoral process. In America, and especially in Georgia, this is Tuesday.

But delays, hassles, terrible election day procedures and registration shenanigans are only part of what suppress higher turnout: polling location closures, rejection of absentee ballot applications for signatures that don’t match exactly, and reduced early voting times and locations are all tactics designed to keep citizens from exercising their agency.

A line forms outside a polling site on election day in Atlanta, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. With reports from the Associated Press of hours-long waits, unexpected polling location closes and malfunctioning voting equipment. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Photo by Associated Press /Fulton Sun.

Even if you do manage to get your vote cast and recorded, are you sure it was recorded according to your wishes? Georgia is one of five states that uses unverifiable voting computers to record all ballots; paper ballots are only used for absentee & provisional ballots. Many other states use these same computers for most of their counties/voters. An official desiring to alter the vote counts on any computer or bank of computers could do it easily, with limited threat of detection, due to a lack of any paper trail used in recording the votes.

And even if you live in a state with at least some level of election integrity, with same-day registration and paper ballots, for example, are you really getting to vote for the candidate of your choice?

  • Partisan gerrymandering of both Congressional and state legislative districts allows officials to choose their voters, instead of the voters choosing their officials.
  • Closed primaries restrict voting to officially registered members of the party holding the primary. Combined with a restrictive deadline for registration prior to the primary, many citizens are unjustly shut out of participating.
  • 3rd party ballot access is severely restricted in many states, forcing voters to choose from the two major parties in a general election — even if they don’t like those options.
  • And even in states with acceptable 3rd party ballot access, almost all jurisdictions use First Past the Post voting, ensuring that a minority of voters will often choose the eventual winner, and that 3rd party candidates have almost no chance of being elected.

If you think this is a partisan, Republican problem, think again. New York City officials cancelled over 200,000 registrations prior to the 2016 Democratic presidential primary, and the multitude of shenanigans in Florida’s 23rd congressional district race — both in 2016 and in 2018 — not only prove that election fraud is bipartisan, but continue to make America the laughingstock of the world regarding election integrity.

We need representatives who stand for the people; who are not beholden to, and funded by, corporations and oligarchs. Representatives who will draft, build support for, and pass legislation that helps the 99%: single-payer healthcare, a legitimate minimum wage, a Green New Deal.  But we cannot get those representatives elected with such a broken, toothless, and, let’s be honest, rigged electoral system that simply cannot be trusted.

Fortunately, there are many who now recognize the urgency.  The Libertarian candidate for Secretary of State in Georgia, Smythe DuVal, ran on a full election overhaul platform, including ranked choice voting, 3rd party ballot access, and paper ballots, and his presence and performance in the election ended up forcing a runoff.  DuVal has since endorsed the Democratic candidate for the runoff (I’ll be a poll watcher for that, too), who has pledged to decertify the voting computers.  This is necessary progress, but it’s only a start.

We need a movement to press for massive election reform now – only a movement of strong, committed organizers, pushing hard in every state and county, will be powerful enough to induce and demand change. We need citizens constantly pressuring their county election boards to provide transparency for their actions and eliminate practices that suppress turnout. We need citizens working with legislators and allied organizations in each state to push for automatic voter registration, ranked choice voting, and open primaries. And we must pressure our current Congress to pass H.R. 5147, Tulsi Gabbard’s bill, and Ron Wyden’s Senate version, mandating paper ballots in all 50 states, and to pass legislation banning super PACs.

A movement for comprehensive electoral reform may not seem as urgent as those for Medicare for All, $15 minimum wage, and a Green New Deal. But not only is it as urgent as those, it’s more so. We need this now, so that we can get what we as Americans deserve: a Brand New Congress that represents all of us.

 


BNC’s commitment to voter rights and election reform. 

 

In light of all that we witnessed throughout the 2018 election cycle, it is clear that voter suppression and election manipulation has reached a crisis point not seen since the days before the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act.

This must be changed.

Over the next two years, Brand New Congress will devote substantial attention to election reform efforts to strike down voter suppression tactics, and remove barriers to participation for all candidates including grassroots, independent, third party, and other non-traditional candidates. We recognize that the issue of free and fair elections is paramount to our Constitutional Republic and the bedrocks of democracy.

We need a Brand New Congress. And it’s clear we cannot achieve this goal until we make sure every vote counts and every vote is counted; that all citizens have equal, unfettered opportunity to exercise their agency and make their voice heard at the polls.

If you support this goal, please consider a monthly contribution to help us invest in the organizing tools, media outreach, and hiring of staff we need to make this work.

 

 

Joe Hill is a proud member of the 99% who volunteers for Brand New Congress in a variety of areas. He is a moderator of Reddit’s WayoftheBern, an Independent Progressive subreddit with over 20,000 subscribers.