Few Hiccups at Polling Places Across Georgia on Primary Tuesday

Credit: Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon (State Affairs)

Key Points
  • Lines were short on primary day in Georgia after voters turned out in record numbers to cast ballots early.
  • Far fewer mail-in ballots collected in places like Fulton County compared to 2020.
  • Georgians were driven to the polls by issues from education and crime to the economy and abortion rights.

Voters across the Peach State largely encountered few difficulties at the election polls today.  Sporadic instances of polling place mixups, technical glitches and other obstacles were reported across the state, but nothing that elections observers and experts deemed out of the ordinary.

Annah Lyles, a security worker who works a night shift, came out to vote Tuesday morning  at the FanPlex polling station south of downtown Atlanta. In 2020, she said, she had to wait up to three hours to cast her ballot, this year there was no wait.

Annah Lyles stands outside a polling place in Atlanta after casting her ballot in the 2022 primary election on May 24, 2022. (Credit: Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon for State Affairs)

In polling places across Fulton County visited by State Affairs, the refrain was largely the same: It was a smooth and quick process. 

The likely cause for that, experts and officials say, is this year’s  record in-person early vote turnout, which Georgia Deputy Secretary of State Gabriel Sterling said was set to surpass 2018’s numbers.

Republican officials like Gov. Brian Kemp and Sterling credited this success to the controversial voting law passed last year – S.B. 202, which critics have assailed in particular over concerns it restricts absentee voting. The law also made changes to the number of precincts and drop-boxes in certain jurisdictions. 

The law’s tighter deadlines and additional signature requirements may also dissuade people from voting absentee, critics and elections experts have said.

Atlanta voter David Grier said lines were shorter than in past primary days when he cast a ballot at the FanPlex polling place on May 24, 2022. (Credit: Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon for State Affairs)

At the Fulton County mail-in ballot processing center around midday Tuesday, some 5,100 absentee ballots had been processed, though officials noted they expected more to arrive via the postal service later in the afternoon. Polls in Georgia closed at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

“The most interesting thing is that there are only 5,000 ballots that have been received so far," said Marilyn Marks, executive director of Coalition for Good Governance, an election watchdog organization that has been suing the Georgia Secretary of State's office since 2017 over the state's ballot-marking machines.

"Compare that to November 2020 when this county had 120,000 mail ballots," she said.

“What that tells us with this high turnout is people are voting in person. They’re voting in early-voting centers quite a lot,” said Marks, adding that SB202 that was passed last March 2021 has really discouraged mail-ballot voters. And I think we’re seeing it in the numbers.”

Click the image above to watch State Affairs' interview with Marilyn Marks outside Fulton County's absentee ballot processing center on May 24, 2022. (Credit: Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon for State Affairs)

Joel Lobel, a 70-year-old retiree voting at the St. Philips Cathedral polling station in Atlanta’s more conservative-leaning Buckhead neighborhood, said he had to vote in person Tuesday because when he checked the status of his mail-in ballot he saw it had not yet been delivered. This prompted him to fill out paperwork at his polling place to cancel his mail-in ballot and cast a new one.

“It took me a little bit longer but it worked out,” he said. 

There were also reports of voters having polling station information from the Secretary of State’s My Voter Page that was mismatched with the voter rolls at the stations themselves.

Click the image above to watch State Affairs' interview with Joel Lobel outside St. Philip Cathedral in Atlanta on May 24, 2022. (Credit: Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon for State Affairs)

This seems to be the case for 71-year-old Jackie Tradley, who went to vote in person told State Affairs about her experience when showed up in person to vote when the polls opened at the United Methodist Church in Buckhead, the polling station her precinct card indicated online, and once there was told to instead go to her old polling station at Sarah Smith Elementary, but officials there indicated that she wasn’t on the rolls there either. 

Tradley said she was ultimately allowed to cast a provisional ballot after she persisted, but said she was concerned that other voters in a similar situation might simply not vote. “The horror of this problem is that those people probably didn't vote,” she said. “We need to get these problems cleared up before the November general election.”

State Rep. Bee Nguyen, a Democratic candidate for the office of Secretary of State, which oversees elections said voting issues reported on election day were “par for the course.”

Click the image above to watch State Affairs' interview with state Rep. Bee Nguyen about what she saw on primary day in Georgia. (Credit: Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon for State Affairs)

“In elections as large as this one, there are going to be glitches,” she said, adding that “the efforts to get people to vote early and in-person has really alleviated a lot of the stressors on election day voting.”

Still, voting rights was a major concern driving some voters to the polls, like 39-year-old Uber driver Crystal Strickland who said, “I want a new governor because what [Kemp’s] doing is unethical.”

Her 21-year-old son, Jaden, came out for reasons closer to home: “My mom told me I gotta go vote.”

Beyond voting rights, Georgians were driven to the polls by issues such as education, crime, the economy and abortion rights.

Republican challengers to unseat incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp split with Georgia's governor on key issues in the 2022 primary campaigns. (Credit: Brittney Phan for State Affairs)

Lyles, who voted in the Democratic primary, is a 40-year-old mother of a high school student and said that she’s concerned about the multiple threats reported to her son’s high school this year. “We need to do something pertaining to the safety of our children in schools,” she said. 

Primary voting in Georgia came amid news that a gunman shot and killed 18 elementary school students and a teacher in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday afternoon. Kemp has run his campaign recently in part on touting his signing in April of new gun legislation allowing for concealed carry without a permit in Georgia. Candidates on Tuesday were expected to address the tragedy in election nights speeches across the state. 

Abdul Nimatallah, a Republican voter in Buckhead, said  the crime issue and the question of Buckhead Cityhood pushed him to vote against Kemp, in favor of former U.S. Sen. David Perdue and in favor of U.S. Rep. Jody Hice over incumbent Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

Abdul Nimatallah stands outside an Atlanta polling place after casting his ballot in the 2022 primary elections on May 24, 2022. (Credit: Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon for State Affairs)

Meanwhile, Lobel, the Republican in Buckhead, praised Kemp’s strong record on the economy, and low unemployment: “He brought new business to this state.”

In East Point, a predominantly Black municipality in Southwest Fulton County, Democratic voter Dale Johnson, 67, while unimpressed with other Republican politicians, said he “wasn’t disappointed” with Kemp, and was thankful for the governor's relief on the gas tax. He was also impressed that Kemp “did what was best for us [Georgians], not what’s best for Trump,” referring to Kemp’s refusal to call a special legislative session aimed at overturning the 2020 presidential election results – a move that still angers former President Donald Trump. 

The retired Delta Airline employee said his mind wasn’t made up about whether Kemp would win his vote in November, but it would be the first time he voted for a Republican governor. 

Meanwhile, some Republican voters who believe that women should have the right to an abortion, are finding themselves alienated within their own party. Jill Vantosh, a 75-year-old retiree, said she pulled a Republican ballot for the primary, but when the general election comes around, the matter of abortion rights might push her to vote for Democrat Stacey Abrams. 

“That will sway my vote,” she said, adding “I’d like to see a Republican who is for abortion, for women’s rights.”

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