With two U.S. Senate races and a razor-thin presidential contest, Georgia is an emerging battleground that is providing Democrats with both optimism and anxiety. Its June primary was hampered by lines that extended past midnight, last-minute polling place changes and allegations of disenfranchisement of Black voters.
"Georgia is the poster child for this dysfunction," said Kristen Clarke, the president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, during a recent U.S. House committee hearing.
The state's July 21 runoff elections will be a key test to see if the problems are reduced.
But Republican lawmakers there are now pushing legislation that would halt the mailing of absentee ballot request forms to voters, placing the responsibility on voters to initiate the process to vote by mail. Studies show that white, older Republican voters are the most likely to request absentee ballots.
Rep. Dwight Evans, who represents a majority African American district in Philadelphia, said many of his constituents don't trust a vote-by-mail process at a time when the president is threatening resources for the U.S. Postal Service.
"It gives a sense of uncertainty. That's why they go to the polls and vote. Because they feel as if -- and I can't argue -- it looks like it's a strategy to prevent them from having full access to the polls," Evans said. "In their heads, the only way they feel that they are going to actually ensure that their vote will count is they go to the polling place."
Evans is sounding the alarm for Pennsylvania to add more staffers and secure voter drop boxes to minimize waits at polling places after it took his state more than a week to tally its June primary results. Biden recently said on "The Daily Show" it could take until December for a winner to be declared in the state where he was born.
"This to me should be the No. 1 issue ... no matter who you're for, Biden or Trump," Evans said. "You can't take this for granted. This system doesn't have the capacity for the election in 2020."
Wisconsin Rep. Gwen Moore called her state's primary "catastrophic" after voters waited in excruciatingly long lines and thousands never received absentee ballots they requested. But with the GOP-controlled state legislature opposed to conducting their election entirely by mail, Democrats said a robust education program will be necessary so voters understand deadlines for absentee ballot requests and returns.
"We are going to have smart codes on the ballots so people can track their ballots like you would a package," said Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.
While DNC officials won't say how much they are dedicating to voter protection, the Trump campaign is boasting of a $20 million legal fund that the president himself has cited as integral to his chances at a second term. Just last week, the campaign's legal team moved to intervene in a Democratic lawsuit in Arizona over signature requirements on ballots. A myriad of such legal wrangling is expected through the fall and even afterward.
Still, it's not all doom and gloom for Democrats. Even with the presidential primary resolved and the threat of coronavirus, voter turnout in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania only saw minor decreases from 2016, while participation in Georgia soared.
"We're watching the resiliency of the American voters," said Andrea Hailey, the CEO of Vote.org. "People in Georgia were still standing in line at 12:30 at night to cast their ballot."
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