Capitol Recap: Long lines mark beginning of early voting in Georgia

Technology draws blame for traffic jam at poll sites

Georgians rushed the polls this past week with the beginning of early voting, and the wait began.

Record turnout — 243,000 voters on the first two days of the three-week period — turned into lengthy lines, with some people reporting it took 12 hours for them to cast their ballots.

“It’s just a lot of people running down that same road right now,” Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said during a Capitol press conference. “It’s like everyone jumping on 285 in the morning, and sometimes you have to stagger out the rush hour.”

Computer problems drew blame as a contributor to snarling voter traffic.

Specifically, the problem was the state’s eNet, an online system that election workers across the state use to look up voters’ registration information, check them in and scan absentee ballots as they arrive at county election offices.

Some early voting sites reported that they were checking in just 10 voters per hour at each of their computers.

The lines started moving faster once the state’s elections software vendor, New Orleans-based Civix, increased bandwidth. Several poll sites in metro Atlanta saw wait times fall from over three hours to about one hour.

Some voters reported seeing people drop out of line before they could cast their ballots, but a lot of them also expressed commitment to the process.

Janice Elliott-Howard, 54, said she she saw the lines as encouraging and that she preferred to vote in person.

“I think it’s the safest way to vote. Safe and then you know your vote is in,” Elliott-Howard said. “I don’t trust putting it in a box or leaving it up to the mail.”

Georgia faces charge of court packing

Speculation that Democrats, if they win the presidency and control of the U.S. Senate, could expand the U.S. Supreme Court — prompting premature charges of court packing — has led to an examination into whether individual states have packed their justice systems.

Georgia is one of those states some would say has tested positive.

In 2016, then-Gov. Nathan Deal won approval from the Republican-controlled General Assembly to expand the Georgia Supreme Court from seven justices to nine. That was just a year after he succeeded in increasing membership on the state Court of Appeals from 12 judges to 15.

Deal made quite a mark on the state’s judicial system. By the time he left office in 2019, Deal had appointed a majority of the judges on the state’s two highest courts: five out of nine Supreme Court justices and nine out of 15 Court of Appeals judges.

According to the research of Duke University law professor Marin Levy, Georgia is one of two states that have engaged in court packing, while many others — often led by Republicans — have tried. Here’s what The Washington Post wrote about Levy’s work:

“In a study published earlier this year, well before the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Levy documented court-packing attempts in at least 11 states in recent years. Most of those efforts were initiated by Republicans, including the two that succeeded.”

There is one big difference, at least in theory. Packing at the federal level is like packing for a permanent move because appointments are for life. That makes packing at the state level, at least in Georgia, more like packing for an overnight trip. All of Deal’s appointments will eventually face voters, although they will also enjoy a power of incumbency so strong no judge on either court has ever been beaten.

U.S. Sen. David Perdue, left, scored No. 2 in Congress on Axios' Trump Loyalty Index. He was the top senator on the scale, which measures both voting records and commentary in support of President Donald Trump.
U.S. Sen. David Perdue, left, scored No. 2 in Congress on Axios' Trump Loyalty Index. He was the top senator on the scale, which measures both voting records and commentary in support of President Donald Trump.

Index puts Perdue among top for faithfulness to Trump

Axios has developed a Trump Loyalty Index, a gauge of both words and deeds in support of the president at key moments over the past four years.

Ranking No. 1 among U.S. senators is David Perdue, with a score of 91. For all of Congress, he came in second to U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman of Wisconsin, who scored a 93.

Here’s how Axios describes its new tool for measuring Trump fidelity:

"The index measures both voting loyalty, according to FiveThirtyEight’s Trump Score, and how members reacted to seven of President Trump’s most controversial moments.

“The bottom line: Critics and dissenters don’t fare well because that’s not what their Republican constituents want. They want Trump and what he represents — suggesting that his style of politics, and the generation of Republicans he tamed and trained, could outlast his presidency and further transform what once was the party of the sunny Ronald Reagan.”

In terms of supporting the president, Perdue actually has a stronger voting record than Grothman, 95% to 94%. And while Perdue’s comments following release of the “Access Hollywood” tape during the 2016 presidential campaign were considered more supportive than those uttered by the Wisconsin congressman, the Georgia senator fell a little short because of his neutral response to Trump’s display of the Bible at a critical times during this summer’s social justice protests.

Georgia’s other senator, Kelly Loeffler, scored a 100% rating on voting with the president, but she was only in office for one of the “controversial moments,” again the Bible display. So she didn’t get a score.

Here’s how other Republican Georgians rated:

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins — 83

U.S. Rep. Jody Hice — 83

U.S. Rep. Rick Allen — 78

U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk — 78

U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter — 77

U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson — 77

U.S. Rep. Austin Scott — 77

U.S. Rep. Tom Graves — 75

U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall — 73

McCormick list counters accusations concerning virus

Rich McCormick, the emergency room physician and Republican candidate in the 7th Congressional District, has produced a list of 100 “health care heroes” — doctors and nurses backing his campaign.

That follows news from the previous week that 120 health care professionals had sent a letter to the Medical Association of Georgia asking that it rescind its endorsement of McCormick because they said he had used his medical background to spread misleading information about the COVID-19 pandemic and ways to treat the coronavirus. Some of those who signed the letter are supporters of McCormick’s opponent in the race, Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux.

McCormick’s supporters include former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price - a former Republican congressman - former White House Physician Ronny Jackson and eight Republican physicians currently serving in Congress.

Olens crosses party line to endorse sheriff candidate

Some endorsements stand out more than others.

Take the case of Sam Olens, a Republican whose resume includes time as the state’s attorney general, president of Kennesaw State University and chairman of the Cobb County Commission.

He was just featured in a robocall backing Democrat Craig Owens' bid to unseat Cobb Sheriff Neil Warren.

“These days it’s unusual for a Republican to support a Democrat,” Olens said. “But the safety of our families and community is too important to let partisanship dictate how we vote for sheriff. Craig Owens is a veteran, a leader, a person with integrity and solid values, who works hard for our country and our county.”

Warren, 73, first became sheriff in 2004, and he joined the department 43 years ago. A notable piece of his work history is that under him, the Sheriff’s Department became the first law enforcement agency in Georgia to join the 287(g) program that allows local policing units to enforce federal immigration law.

But Warren has faced scrutiny in recent years over a number of deaths in the county jail that he oversees.

Cobb District Attorney Joyette Holmes, a Republican, last month asked federal prosecutors to launch an independent probe into inmate deaths at the Cobb County Adult Detention Center.

Greene picks Loeffler over Collins

And then there are endorsements that come with risks.

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler this past week notched the endorsement of fellow Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene, a promoter of the discredited QAnon conspiracy theory who has also posted racist and xenophobic videos on social media.

In the short term, it’s a big move for Loeffler in her battle against another Republican, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, for a likely spot in a runoff in the 20-candidate special election for her seat. Based on recent polling, the winner in that feud will finish second in November and gain a chance to run against Democrat Raphael Warnock in January.

Support from Greene, who is now running without opposition in the 14th Congressional District, was highly coveted by both Loeffler and Collins, who have each focused their campaigns on winning conservatives.

But Greene’s backing comes with baggage. In addition to peddling the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory that claims President Donald Trump is secretly fighting a “deep state” that protects sex traffickers and pedophiles — a belief the FBI has labeled a potential domestic terrorism threat — she made many other wild and divisive claims. For example, she maintains that the 2017 Las Vegas massacre was orchestrated.

Loeffler’s willing to ignore all that.

“No one in Georgia cares about this QAnon business," she said during an appearance with Greene.

That may be true in November, while Loeffler and Collins concentrate their efforts on only a segment of the electorate — enough to place second.

But in January, the fight likely won’t be for the right flank, but for the middle ground that lies between them and apparently Warnock.

Ruling brings pause in federal cases over voting

A U.S. district judge’s dismissal this past week of a lawsuit over longs lines at the polls cleared the docket, at least for now, of motions in federal courts seeking emergency court action involving Georgia’s elections.

Judge Michael Brown said he disagreed with the plaintiffs' contention that lines are “all but certain” to occur Nov. 3 after election officials made improvements following Georgia’s primary election, when voters at some precincts waited hours to cast their ballots.

The Democratic Party and three voters filed the suit. They wanted Brown to reallocate voting computers, order the use of paper ballots when lines exceed 30 minutes, increase poll worker training and require more rigorous equipment testing.

Brown wrote that since the primary, election officials have recruited more poll workers, added tech support staff, increased voting locations and improved absentee voting options.

Brown’s ruling brings the end to a string of federal cases surrounding voting in Georgia.

In earlier decisions:

In one case, a judge did side with plaintiffs, requiring updated paper backups of voter registration lists and absentee ballot information at voting locations.

Candidates, endorsements, etc.:

  • Public Service Commissioner Tricia Pridemore is backing U.S. Rep. Doug Collins' challenge to U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, making her one of a string of statewide officials siding against Gov. Brian Kemp’s pick in the 20-candidate special election.
  • The anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony’s List has endorsed Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue’s re-election bid.

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