Democratic runoff likely, McCormick with lead in Georgia’s 7th Congressional District primaries

The hotly contested race to replace U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall in Georgia’s 7th Congressional District appeared likely headed for a runoff between Democratic candidates following Tuesday’s primary election, though many votes were still left to be counted long after midnight.

Meanwhile, Dr. Rich McCormick looked to have collected enough votes to avoid a runoff in the Republican primary.

The 7th District, covering most of Gwinnett County and part of Forsyth County, drew a crowded field of candidates in the primary following the decision by current seat holder Woodall, a Republican, not to seek re-election.

Whoever emerges for the Nov. 3 general election, the race is expected to be close. In 2018, Woodall won his fourth term by less than 500 votes over Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux, who is making a second run at the seat this year.

Bourdeaux, who amassed nearly $2 million in campaign contributions ahead of Tuesday’s primary, looked unlikely to claim more than 50% of the vote tally needed to avoid a runoff. As voting stood early Wednesday morning, she is poised to face one of several close-competing Democratic candidates in a runoff scheduled for Aug. 11.

On the Republican side, Dr. Rich McCormick, an emergency room doctor and former Marine pilot, held slightly more than 50% of the vote early Wednesday morning over state Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford. McCormick and Unterman sparred ahead of the election in a bid to emphasize their conservative views.

Seven Republican and six Democratic candidates put their hats in the ring for the primary election held Tuesday. Views from opposing-party candidates have divided sharply over hallmark issues including immigration enforcement, universal health care, the Green New Deal environmental pledge and President Donald Trump’s helming of the federal government.

Trailing Bourdeaux on the Democratic slate were state Rep. Brenda Lopez Romero, the first Latina elected to the General Assembly; Nabilah Islam, a campaign organizer and activist; and Rashid Malik, a former IBM executive and author.

Republican candidates have dismissed the idea that the 7th District is up for grabs, noting the region’s conservative base is energized to re-elect Trump and down-ballot Republicans in the Nov. 3 general election.

But Democratic hopefuls see an opening in the district after Bourdeaux’s close race and amid demographic changes in Gwinnett County that have been spurred in part by a growing minority population.

Tuesday’s primary was marked by long lines and wait times at some polling places in the state, particularly in Atlanta and Savannah. Elections officials attributed slow in-person voting to subpar training in the state’s new voting machines and safety measures put in place amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Statewide, more than three-fourths of the roughly 1.2 million early votes ahead of the primary were cast by mail, marking a historic absentee effort as election officials pressed for increased participation in vote-by-mail to help curb the spread of the virus.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger stressed the voting challenges Tuesday that more time will be needed to tally up votes before final election results can be declared.

Primary runoff possible for David Scott in Georgia’s 13th Congressional District race

U.S. Congressman David Scott was on the edge of heading to a runoff after voting wrapped up late Tuesday in Georgia’s primary election, capping a day marked by long lines and technical hiccups amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Scott, a Democrat, was close to dipping below the 50% vote threshold needed to avoid a runoff in his bid to win a 10th consecutive term representing Georgia’s 13th Congressional District as votes continued trickling in early Wednesday morning.

The primary race to unseat Scott drew three Democratic hopefuls, each of whom attacked the longtime congressman for not holding public meetings with constituents and for residing outside the district.

Should the final count show he did not gain more than 50% of the vote share, Scott would likely face a runoff on Aug. 11 with second-place finisher Keisha Waites, a consultant and former state House lawmaker.

Scott has held the reliably Democratic 13th District seat since his first election in 2002. The district covers parts of several suburban counties south and west of Atlanta including Clayton, Henry, Douglas and Cobb counties.

The longtime congressman’s absence at last month’s Atlanta Press Club primary debate drew sharp criticism from his Democratic challengers who called Scott out of touch with residents in his district and beholden to special interests.

His office did not respond when asked last month why he declined to participate in the primary debate.

Of the nearly $740,000 in contributions Scott raised ahead of the primary, records show roughly $640,000 of it came from political action committees.

Barring the need for a runoff, Scott would head to the Nov. 3 general election with about $240,000 in campaign cash and the advantage of voter history over a Republican challenger, Becky Hites, who won the district’s Republican primary outright on Tuesday.

Hites, a steel industry consultant, has touted her track record as a longtime business owner who has worked with corporate clients and describes herself as a “Trumplican.” She appeared set to win more than 50% of the vote in the Republican primary over Caesar Gonzales, a mechanic and motorcycle racer.

The Democratic primary also drew Michael Owens, a cybersecurity consultant who formerly chaired the Cobb County Democratic Party, and Jannquell Peters, an attorney and former mayor of East Point.

Tuesday’s primary was marked by long lines and wait times at some polling places in the state, particularly in Atlanta and Savannah. Elections officials attributed slow in-person voting to subpar training in the state’s new voting machines and safety measures put in place amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Statewide, more than three-fourths of the roughly 1.2 million early votes ahead of the primary were cast by mail, marking a historic absentee effort as election officials pressed for increased participation in vote-by-mail to help curb the spread of the virus.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger stressed the voting challenges Tuesday that more time will be needed to tally up votes before final election results can be declared.

“Due to the nature of this election, we have said multiple times that election results will take time to receive, validate and post,” Raffensperger said. “Voting in a pandemic has posed a variety issues for the elections officials as well as the voters. We look forward to sharing full results.”

Hank Johnson set for primary win in Georgia’s 4th Congressional District

U.S. Congressman Hank Johnson appeared set to claim victory in the primary election for Georgia’s 4th Congressional District late Tuesday night, as voting results trickled in on a day marked by long lines and technical hiccups amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Johnson, a Democrat, is poised to win his eighth consecutive term in the metro-Atlanta district, which covers most of DeKalb County as well as parts of Gwinnett and Newton counties and all of Rockdale County. He was first elected in 2006 after a stint on the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners.

As it stood early Wednesday morning, Johnson had enough votes to avoid a runoff after facing two Democratic challengers in Tuesday’s primary, both of whom were seeking elected office for the first time in Georgia. They included William Haston, a U.S. Air Force veteran and operations contractor, and Elaine Nietmann, an attorney.

Without a runoff, the longtime congressman would head to the Nov. 3 general election against Republican candidate Johsie Cruz, who works in health-care insurance.

Along with incumbency, Johnson has a financial advantage with roughly $87,000 in campaign cash. He raised about $360,000 total ahead of the primary, of which roughly $307,000 came from political action committees.

With vote counts coming in late Tuesday, Johnson took a sizable lead over second-place finisher Nietmann to likely avoid a runoff. Runoffs must be held between the top two vote-getters if no candidate gains more than 50% of the vote share for primary and general elections in Georgia.

Tuesday’s primary was marked by long lines and wait times at some polling places in the state, particularly in Atlanta and Savannah. Elections officials attributed slow in-person voting to subpar training in the state’s new voting machines and safety measures put in place amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Statewide, more than three-fourths of the roughly 1.2 million early votes turned in ahead of the primary were cast by mail, marking a historic absentee effort as elections officials pressed for increased participation in vote-by-mail to help curb the spread of the virus.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger stressed the voting challenges Tuesday that more time will be needed to tally up votes before final election results can be declared.

“Due to the nature of this election, we have said multiple times that election results will take time to receive, validate and post,” Raffensperger said. “Voting in a pandemic has posed a variety issues for the elections officials as well as the voters. We look forward to sharing full results.”

Marjorie Greene, John Cowan likely headed for runoff in Georgia’s 14th Congressional District

The race to replace outgoing U.S. Rep. Tom Graves for a congressional seat representing Northwest Georgia looked headed for a runoff late Tuesday night, as results in the state’s coronavirus-stricken primary indicated none of the Republican candidates would claim enough votes to win outright.

Marjorie Taylor Greene, a construction company owner, held a lead in the primary over John Cowan, a neurosurgeon who owns a toy shop. As vote counts trickled in late Tuesday, it appeared she would not collect enough votes in the primary to avoid a runoff scheduled for Aug. 11.

In all, nine Republican candidates signed up for the bid to replace Graves, a Republican, who announced late last year that he would not seek re-election. He has held the 14th District seat since first winning election in 2010.

The reliably Republican district stretches from Paulding and Haralson counties north through Rome, Calhoun and Dalton to the Tennessee line.

Little daylight has come between the staunchly conservative candidates in terms of policy points. Eight of them participated in last month’s Atlanta Press Club primary debate in which they alternated between praise for President Donald Trump, disdain for congressional Democrats and a handful of jabs at each other.

At last month’s debate, Greene stressed that her staunchly conservative values align with many of the district’s voters and touted endorsements from influential members of Congress like U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio.

“I’m 100% pro-life, 100% pro-gun, and I’m the strongest supporter of President Trump and always have been,” Greene said.

She also faced criticism for deciding to back out of the 6th Congressional District race earlier this year and enter the 14th District contest. John Barge, a former Georgia state school superintendent who ran in the primary, labeled Greene an “opportunist”.

Cowan was criticized by some candidates during the debate for buying products made in China and not in Northwest Georgia for his toy shop. He defended his business practices, saying he has experience negotiating with Chinese manufacturers.

“I’ve been tougher on China than anyone on this panel because I’ve actually engaged them,” Cowan said.

Cowan also said last month he favors moves to reopen local economies emerging from the coronavirus pandemic amid his background in the medical field and that there needs to be a balance between science and economic needs.

The race has also drawn one Democratic candidate, Kevin Van Ausdal, an implementation specialist. He has slightly more than $1,000 on hand to vie for the Republican stronghold seat.

On the Republican side, the race to replace Graves has drawn several deep-pocketed contenders able to prop up their campaigns with personal loans. Of the roughly $3.5 million raised in total by Republican candidates through May 20, nearly half came in the form of loans.

Greene propped up her campaign financing with a $700,000 personal loan that contributed greatly to the more than $1 million she spent through late May. She has roughly $170,000 on hand for the runoff.

Cowan also floated his campaign a $100,000 loan to help boost his roughly $574,000 in spending. His campaign was aided by a late infusion of nearly $118,000 in contributions that have flowed in since May 21.

Tuesday’s primary was marked by long lines and wait times at some polling places in the state, particularly in Atlanta and Savannah. Elections officials attributed slow in-person voting to subpar training in the state’s new voting machines and safety measures put in place amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Statewide, more than three-fourths of the roughly 1.2 million early votes ahead of the primary were cast by mail, marking a historic absentee effort as elections officials pressed for increased participation in vote-by-mail to help curb the spread of the virus.

Also running in the Republican primary were Barge, the former school superintendent; Clayton Fuller, a prosecutor and U.S. Air Force veteran; Bill Hembree, a former state House representative; state Rep. Kevin Cooke, R-Carrollton; Matt Laughridge, a businessman; Ben Bullock, a real estate investor and U.S. Air Force veteran; and Andy Gunther, a retired U.S. Marine and businessman.

‘Outraged’: Long lines, equipment stumbles bruise Georgia primary

Voters wait in a long line at the Central Park polling place in Atlanta on Primary Election Day, June 9, 2020. (Photo by Beau Evans)

Hours-long waits in line and technical hiccups with new voting machines greeted Georgians who headed to the polls Tuesday for the state’s primary election amid safety measures prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Voters and local officials reported issues with using the new $104 million voting machines and the ability of short-handed volunteer poll workers to troubleshoot problems as voting lines stretched at polling places from Atlanta to Savannah.

State elections officials warned ahead of Tuesday lines and wait times would be longer as polling places space people six feet apart, take time to clean voting areas and use fewer voting machines to limit capacity. But technical issues seen in some areas like Atlanta and Savannah were unexpected, compounding already long lines.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger traced problems to “a lack of training and planning” by county elections officials, noting most of Georgia’s 159 counties were not experiencing technical issues with voting machines. Counties like Cobb, Richmond and Muscogee were running smoothly, he said.

“By and large, what it comes down to is the competence of the county director,” Raffensperger said in an interview. “It’s not really a machine error. What it’s been is user error, just lack of training for the poll workers.”

Mail-in gone missing

That assessment did not calm frustrations shown by voters at polling places in Atlanta such as at Central Park, where voters queued up for more than two hours Tuesday morning. Many in line said poll workers were struggling to operate the new machines, forcing them to hand out paper provisional ballots while waiting for technical support to arrive.

“We’re hot, we’re tired, we’re bothered,” said one voter.

Lori Krugman, a voter at Central Park, called it a “disaster of a line” that she had wanted to avoid by voting absentee but never received a mail-in ballot after twice requesting one since April. Daniel Murdoch also had to brave the line after not receiving a requested mail-in ballot.

“Not good,” he said.

Concerns over the primary’s integrity were inflamed Tuesday even as more than 1.2 million Georgians cast ballots by mail and during the early voting period ahead of Election Day, a record early turnout that included roughly 950,000 absentee ballots in a push to curb in-person voting amid the virus.

The surge in vote-by-mail and early voting came as state and local elections officials faced a daunting challenge to keep polling places sanitized and safe for voters and poll workers, particularly with polling places in areas like Fulton County closed or consolidated due to COVID-19.

Hours in line

But from the get-go Tuesday, voters in Atlanta like Shannon Christian were angered by what appeared to be a severe lack of preparation on the part of local elections officials.

“Outraged,” is how Christian put it as she approached the three-hour mark of her wait in line at the Central Park precinct.

“It’s frustrating,” said her companion, Gabriel Baawo, both of whom were in a group of people tired from the wait but still fired up to vote after joining protests last week over police brutality and racial injustice.

“I got tear-gassed last Monday,” Christian said. “We’re out here.”

Extended waits and technical problems were not confined to Atlanta. In Savannah, Mayor Van Johnson said Tuesday morning he had “been inundated with calls and messages” from upset voters at polling places in the coastal city.

“This appears to be a widespread issue as individuals have told me that they’ve had to go to work or, in some cases, they were asked to come back at a later time,” Johnson said at a news conference.

Johnson added state and county elections officials should have been better prepared for the issues seen Tuesday, noting the presidential preference primary was delayed twice from its original March 24 date.

“Certainly, we’ve had enough time and enough delays at this point where it should be right,” Johnson said.

Placing blame

State officials were quick to criticize the performance of county officials. Gabriel Sterling, the secretary of state’s chief operating officer, said some counties saw “logistical deployment issues” including poll workers who tried to use voter check-in cards “upside down,” but that officials had not seen any glitches with the new machines.

Sterling also noted state officials fielded reports that poll workers were “not understanding setup or how to operate voting equipment,” a shortcoming he and Raffensperger pinned on local elections directors.

Since purchasing the new voting machines last year, Raffensperger’s office has largely left it to county officials how to provide training for poll workers. He said Tuesday his office provided several rounds of training for county and regional leaders and set up an online training portal for local precincts to use.

“We think that we’ve done a great job on the training aspect,” Raffensperger said. “Other counties are getting it right today.”

But many lawmakers and voting rights advocates were dismayed by Raffensperger’s response, arguing the buck should stop with him as the state’s elections chief.

“Talk about throwing under the bus,” said Johnson, Savannah’s mayor.

Investigation called

State Democratic leaders called for Raffensperger to take more direct action to patch any problems with training or equipment prior to elections set for later this year including the Nov. 3 general election.

“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,” said Maggie Chambers, spokeswoman for the Democratic Party of Georgia.

And Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, ordered a lawmaker-led investigation into the “unacceptable deficiencies” of the primary that aims to look at more than poll workers, who he said “do not deserve to be blamed for systemic problems beyond their control.”

“The legislative branch of government has an obligation to go beyond the mutual finger-pointing and get to the truth,” Ralston said.

Meanwhile, facing long wait times, many voters hunkered down Tuesday to cast ballots in what they view as the start of an important election cycle that includes contests for president, U.S. Senate, Congress and General Assembly seats.

At St. Philip’s Cathedral in Atlanta, Aroona Toor finally cast her ballot just after 9 a.m. after standing in line since polls opened at 7 a.m. Her feet were tired, her back hurt, but Toor said she felt proud to vote.

“You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” she said.

Long lines, wait times expected for June 9 primary

Voters wait in line at a precinct in Cobb County on May 18, 2020. (Photo by Beau Evans)

Voters headed to the polls Tuesday for Georgia’s primary elections should expect long lines and wait times at local precincts due to safety measures prompted by the coronavirus pandemic, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said Monday.

The warning comes after voters at several polling places in the Atlanta area stood in line for hours late into the night on the final day of early voting last Friday, sparking concern from elections officials and voting rights advocates that wait times on Election Day could be worse.

More than 1.2 million Georgians have cast ballots so far by mail and during the early voting period, a record turnout for a primary election that should help curb the amount of in-person voting on Tuesday, Raffensperger said.

But he still expects upwards of 250,000 to 400,000 voters may turn out across the state, spurring long lines as polling places space people six feet apart, take time to clean voting areas and use fewer voting machines to limit capacity.

“Things would be better if we weren’t in this pandemic,” Raffensperger said at a news conference Monday. “But it is what it is.”

Raffensperger also noted voters may take a little longer to cast ballots Tuesday while adapting to the state’s new voting machines, which involve touchscreens and scanners that record a paper print-out of a voter’s completed ballot. The primary marks the first statewide Election Day use of the new machines.

Polls open at 7 a.m. across the state Tuesday.

Health and elections experts are urging voters to make sure they stay separated from others while in line to vote, wear a face mask that covers both the mouth and nose areas, use hand sanitizer and avoid touching surfaces unnecessarily while at a voting site.

Dr. Marybeth Sexton, an assistant professor of medicine at Emory University’s Division of Infectious Diseases, said voters who follow those distancing and sanitizing practices should be able to vote in person Tuesday without the risk of being exposed to the virus. But if some voters at polling places are not spaced out in line or are not wearing masks, it would be wise to get tested for COVID-19 four to five days after voting, Sexton said.

“People can get out and vote safely,” Sexton said Monday. “It’s just important that the message gets out about how to best do that.”

Long waits are anticipated even as mail-in voting has surged in Georgia amid the coronavirus pandemic. As of Monday, roughly 950,000 voters had cast absentee ballots, though many still had not received ballots weeks after requesting them.

The surge in vote-by-mail comes as state and local elections officials face a daunting challenge to keep polling places sanitized and safe for voters and poll workers, particularly with polling places in some counties like Fulton closed or consolidated amid the virus.

Voters should check ahead of time whether their usual voting location will be open Tuesday and, if not, where they will be able to cast their ballot instead, said Andra Gillespie, an associate professor of political science at Emory. Sexton likewise urged voters to choose odd-hour times if possible when heading to the polls.

“You do want to try to pick a time when it’s a little less crowded so that it is possible to keep that distance both in any line outside and then certainly once you’re inside the building,” Sexton said.

Raffensperger urged voters who have requested absentee ballots but not yet received one to show up in person to vote Tuesday. He laid blame for delays on Fulton County elections officials, who now face a state probe into their handling of mail-in ballots.

“We’re not pleased with the performance of Fulton County,” Raffensperger said Monday. “In so many areas, they just made poor decisions.”

He also advised people who have received absentee ballots but not put them in the mail yet to either place them in a drop-off box that counties have set up to collect mail-in ballots or to just vote in person Tuesday.

Additionally, Raffensperger cautioned Georgians not to expect a quick turnaround in results due to the large number of absentee ballots and short-handed staff at some polling places. He said no election results will be announced “until every precinct is closed,” which could mean a few days pass before results for some contests are announced.

Meanwhile, Georgia Democratic leaders have chastised the performance by Raffensperger and some county elections offices over the long lines and unreturned absentee ballots.

“The secretary of state and counties have had months to prepare for this election, but they have squandered valuable time that could have been used to prevent the democratic crisis we are seeing today,” said Sen. Nikema Williams, D-Atlanta, who chairs the Democratic Party of Georgia.