People wait in a long line to vote Saturday at the Cobb County Board of Elections and Registration Office in Marietta. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC
Photo: Steve Schaefer
Photo: Steve Schaefer

Nearly half of Georgia voters concerned about fraud or voting access

Many voters say they’re deeply skeptical about the integrity of Georgia’s elections, including concerns about tampering and ineligible voters casting ballots, according to a poll released Thursday by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News.

Fears about elections broke along party lines, with Republicans more significantly worried about fraud and Democrats concerned that voters will be turned away or their ballots won’t be counted.

The poll results come amid a heated campaign for governor where voting rights and access have become a critical issue in the race between Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp, who is in charge of elections oversight as Georgia’s secretary of state.

AJC/Channel 2 poll: Deadlocked Abrams-Kemp race could trigger runoff

Interactive: Poll results

PDF: Complete poll crosstabs

How the poll was conducted

Georgians are especially anxious that voters will be turned away, with 49 percent of respondents saying they believe it’s likely or very likely that many people will show up to vote and be told they’re not eligible, according to the poll, which has a 3 percentage point margin of error.

Almost as many of those surveyed are concerned about fraud, with nearly 48 percent saying it’s likely or very likely that people who aren’t eligible will vote in the election.

The poll was conducted from Oct. 21 to Tuesday by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs. It contacted 1,091 likely general election voters who said they had voted in this year’s primary election or the 2016 general election and said they were definitely or probably going to vote in the Nov. 6 election.

While many voters express distrust of Georgia’s election systems, that hasn’t discouraged them from turning out so far.

Almost 1.7 million voters had already cast ballots through Wednesday, an early-voting turnout that’s well over twice as high as the same point in the last midterm election in 2014.

John Ruggiero, a medical technologist from Lilburn, said his primary worry is that Georgia’s 16-year-old touchscreen voting machines could be tampered with or hacked. Just five states, including Georgia, rely entirely on electronic voting machines without a verifiable paper backup.

“I think there will be some fraud, but for the most part I think it will be accurate,” Ruggiero said. “It could even come from people who are local. It doesn’t have to be a foreign country” penetrating voting machines.

But Elizabeth Hartman, who works in sales in Norcross, said she’s concerned by what she’s heard about Georgia’s “exact match” law, which has contributed to nearly 47,000 voter registration applications being placed on hold because the government couldn’t verify their information.

“It doesn’t seem quite right,” Hartman said. “It’s much more likely that people who could or should be able to vote can’t than people who shouldn’t vote can.”

Those surveyed who identified as Republicans were highly apprehensive about voter fraud and less uneasy about the possibility of voters being told they’re ineligible or not being counted. More than 64 percent of Republican respondents said it’s likely or very likely that people who aren’t eligible will vote. Only 30.7 percent of Democrats shared that concern.

Voting fraud is rare in Georgia and nationwide. Allegations of fraud are investigated by the Secretary of State’s Office, but few cases have resulted in criminal charges in recent years.

Georgia is one of 34 states with laws requesting or requiring voters to show some form of identification at the polls, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Democrats were most worried about voters showing up to vote and being told they’re not eligible, with more than 76 percent saying it’s likely or very likely. Over 24 percent of Republicans shared that fear.

Among all voters surveyed, they were about equally concerned that votes won’t be counted or that someone will tamper with Georgia’s voting system. About 44 percent of respondents said those scenarios are likely or very likely.

Still, that leaves a majority of voters who have confidence in Georgia’s elections.

Mary Martin Bowen, a retired schoolteacher from Decatur, said she’s upset about allegations of voter suppression. As a volunteer precinct worker for 35 years, she said she tries hard to ensure everyone can vote.

“We’re trained to vote people efficiently and courteously, and to vote as many people as possible,” Bowen said. “The whole thrust of the training that we get is to get people voted, not to keep them from voting.”

Mike Cropper, a retired information technology specialist from Stockbridge, said issues such as potential voter suppression and unauthorized immigrants casting ballots have been overblown.

“I don’t believe a great deal of people will be turned away,” Cropper said. “I don’t believe there will be a great deal of people voting that should not vote. I believe our election system here in Georgia is as close to being right as it can be.”

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— Staff writer Tamar Hallerman contributed to this article.