Secretary of State’s office opens investigation into ‘poor planning’ by county elections

ATLANTA — The Secretary of State’s office says county officials are to blame for voting issues that have caused massive lines and hours-long wait times at polling locations across metro Atlanta.

People all over north Georgia sent us photos of long lines and reported issues with voting machines starting as soon as the polls opened at 7 a.m.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger says he has opened an investigation into the Fulton and DeKalb counties election processes:

“The voting situation today in certain precincts in Fulton and DeKalb counties is unacceptable. My office has opened an investigation to determine what these counties need to do to resolve these issues before November’s election."

"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. But every other county faced these same issues and were significantly better prepared to respond so that voters had every opportunity to vote.”

Channel 2 investigative reporter Justin Gray has been inside the “war room” with state election officials and spoke one-on-one with Raffensperger.

Raffensperger said it all comes down to a lack of proper training with the new voting machines on some counties.

“What they really need to do is hold their elected officials in those counties, hold them accountable,” he said.

Even before COVID-19, Georgia was facing the tall task of replacing every voting machine in every polling place in the state.

“We send out people from our vendor and the machines are working fine,” Raffensperger said.

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The SOS office said earlier Tuesday the counties that are having issues are to blame for their own problems.

“While these issues are unfortunate, they are not issues of the equipment but a function of counties engaging in poor planning, limited training and failures of leadership,” Statewide Voting Implementation Manager Gabriel Sterling said in a statement to Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Justin Gray.

[LIVE UPDATES: Voters run into long lines, other issues on Election Day]

Fulton County commission chair Robb Pitts said the county had to scramble at the last minute to replace poll workers because of COVID-19.

“It’s easy to point fingers, but now we need to get this thing right,” Pitts said.

DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond blames the Secretary of State for failure of leadership.

“The Election Day issues relating to the use of state-purchased voting machines represent an attack on the democratic process. The Secretary of State’s office has alleged these issues resulted from a failure of county leadership. If there was a failure of leadership, it starts where the buck should stop, at the top. The eradication of any ‘learning curve’ rests squarely at the feet of the Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and his office," his statement said.

Sterling fired back at the DeKalb CEO saying Thurmond doesn’t understand training and polling places management falls on the county. Here was his statement:

“That the Dekalb County CEO doesn’t seem to know that training poll workers and equipping polling places is a responsibility that Georgia law places squarely on the county goes a long way to explain the issues that we saw today in Dekalb. See OCGA 21-2-70 (Each superintendent within his or her county shall:… (4) selection and equip polling places…, (8) instruct poll officers and others in their duties, and to inspect systematically and thoroughly the conduct of primaries and elections in the several precincts of his or her county to the end that primaries and elections may be honestly, efficiently, and uniformly conducted). The Secretary of State’s office is tasked with providing training to the superintendents, who then train their poll workers and county election officials. The fact that the egregious issues we are seeing today seem to be limited to a few precincts in a couple counties suggests that the breakdown occurred at the county level. The other 157 counties faced the same difficulties of using a new system and voting during a pandemic, but they seem to have handled the issues that arose diligently and efficiently."

HOUSE SPEAKERS CALLS FOR INVESTIGATION

Meanwhile, Georgia House Speaker David Ralston is calling for an investigation into the voting problems, particularly in Fulton County.

Channel 2 political reporter Richard Elliot spoke with Ralston Tuesday afternoon.

The speaker doesn’t know if it’s a state issue, county issue, the pandemic’s fault or a combination of all three. But he wants to get to the bottom of it.

“We’re in the beginning of the third decade of the 21st century. We shouldn’t be having these problems with an election," Ralston said. “We have an obligation I think to investigate and tell people where we went wrong.”

The Georgia general assembly goes back into session next week, so a committee could start looking into it then.

Elliot reached out to the state Democratic Party, who blamed the state.

"The Secretary of State’s job is to provide adequate support and training for counties as he implemented Georgia’s new voting system, and he has failed.”

The state Republican Party meanwhile blamed the counties, especially Fulton, and the Democrats.

"This unacceptable incompetence will effectively disenfranchise countless eligible voters across Georgia’s largest county. Georgia voters deserve better from their public servants.”

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