Early voting began in more than 20 states ahead of the US presidential election on November 3rd. The turnout has already far exceeded previous competitions and has led some experts to forecast record-breaking participation this year.
According to the US election project, more than 25 million ballots were cast by personal area code and postal voting on Saturday, representing more than 18 percent of all votes counted in the 2016 presidential contest.
However, this early voter engagement, fueled in part by the COVID-19 pandemic, has also created new challenges as long lines and hours of waiting were reported at polling stations in Georgia, Texas, North Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana and Ohio. among other states.
Early voters line up to cast their votes at the South Regional Library polling station in Durham, North Carolina [Gerry Broome/AP]The time-consuming process has been attributed to the excitement in a charged political climate, a willingness to avoid election day elections due to the novel coronavirus, and in some cases disruptions in the voting infrastructure.
But it’s also evidence of obstacles many U.S. voters face, according to proponents of voting rights, who said those obstacles that can make voting a one-day affair often disproportionately affect minority communities.
Critics also said that some voting systems, which are monitored by US states and also differ in national elections, are inherently designed to help one party over the other.
“The long lines are deliberate, not by accident,” tweeted the National Election Defense Coalition, a group of election observation organizations, on October 15. “The voters have to stand up to defend our system of government.”
Fewer polling stations
In Georgia, where polls opened on Monday, some voters waited more than eight hours to cast their votes, according to local media.
On the first day of the election in the state, 128,000 residents voted, beating the turnout of 91,000 on the first day of 2016, The Associated Press reported.
State officials said the turnout was “extreme and enormous” and therefore lines were to be expected. “This election is very enthusiastic and you will see a high turnout. That’s why we’re going to see lines, ”Assistant Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
During Georgia, primary voters in predominantly white areas waited 6 minutes for the vote, while voters in predominantly minority areas waited 51 minutes for the vote
The electoral repression in Georgia is the direct result of the SCOTUS Voting Rights Act and would be worse if Barrett confirmed https://t.co/Twb5F7rvVo
– Ari Berman (@AriBerman) October 12, 2020
The delays were caused in part by problems with computers used to check-in voters at polling stations in the Atlanta area, according to local media.
However, an analysis by Georgia Public Broadcasting and ProPublica released Saturday in coordination with National Public Radio revealed a more insidious problem: a dwindling number of polling stations in the state.
News outlets reported that while the polling reduction has taken place “across racial lines,” it has had an overwhelming effect on non-white communities, which have seen increases in voter registration and where residents are more likely to vote in person.
Another day of early voting and another long line in NC. This one in Durham. Polls now open pic.twitter.com/6PDD9fn2Ha
– Leigh Ann Caldwell (@LACaldwellDC) October 17, 2020
This is especially noteworthy given that Georgia is one of several places in the US where voters have been discriminated against in the past. According to the groundbreaking Voting Rights Act of 1965, the state had to obtain a preliminary investigation from the federal government before making changes to its electoral systems and infrastructure.
However, a 2013 Supreme Court ruling removed that requirement and allowed state officials and lawmakers to make changes to the way votes are conducted without the supervision of the federal government. Individuals and groups can continue to challenge government voting practices in court.
Since then, the number of registered voters in Georgia has increased by nearly two million people, while the number of polling stations has decreased by 10 percent nationwide, according to analysis by Georgia Public Broadcasting and ProPublica.
More than 25 million ballots were cast by early personal and postal ballot on Saturday, according to the United States election project [File: LM Otero/AP]Nine boroughs in the city of Atlanta have been particularly hard hit. They make up half of the state’s electorate but only 38 percent of the polling stations, the report said, although some have tried to add additional polling stations ahead of the last-minute election.
It is also said that the average number of voters per polling station in these districts rose 40 percent from 2012 to October 9. Across Georgia, about 90 percent of counties fail to comply with a state law that limits the number of voters who can cast their ballots at a single polling station that previously experienced voter delays at 2,000 people.
The high number of voters using a single polling station extends beyond Georgia. This was found in a poll analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice, a public order institute at New York University Law School, in June.
The average number of voters assigned to polling stations has also increased over the past five years in Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina, all states that previously required prior screening under the Voting Rights Act.
Other states, including those that did not have special requirements under the Voting Rights Act, were also accused of using long queues at polling stations to suppress voters.
In Ohio, where early voting began on October 6, the number of people who personally cast ballots in the first week of early voting has nearly tripled compared to 2016. 193,021 voters voted, compared to 64,312 four years ago.
More than 193,000 people personally cast ballots in Ohio in the first week of early voting this month, nearly three times the number who cast early ballots in the same period in 2016 [File: Aaron Doster/AP]The surge resulted in hours of waiting at polling stations, including a number of voters in the city of Columbus, stretching 0.2 miles on the first day of the election, the AP reported.
Ohio State officials blamed the long lines on the first day of early voting for the high level of “enthusiasm” among voters.
However, a 2006 law restricting early personal polling stations to one per district also added to long lines, as former President Barack Obama’s speechwriter David Litt noted in The Guardian earlier this week.
According to Litt, the facility means residents of Vinton County, a Republican bastion of 13,500 residents, will have access to the same number of polling stations as the 1.3 million residents of Franklin County, which includes the state capital, Columbus.
This line is for the early voting in Columbus – yay #Ohio #VOTE 👊🏽 pic.twitter.com/0ZY0QArZ02
– Ashley Koff RD (@ashleykoff) October 12, 2020
“The blame for the long lines they endured is ignored and the massive, deliberate inequality of resources between the more and less populous parts of the state is ignored,” Litt wrote. “Ohio politicians made voting a lot easier for Republicans and a lot harder for Democrats.”