Confusion, conflict arise in special election to fill state Senate seat

October 12, 2020 Atlanta: People wait to get registered to vote on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020 at State Farm Arena in downtown Atlanta. Eager Georgia voters swarmed to polling places Monday morning, waiting in lines created by high turnout and technical problems at the start of three weeks of early voting before Election Day. A glitch with voter check-in computers held up voters at Georgia’s largest early voting site at State Farm Arena. Lines stopped after voters received an “invalid card” error when inserting green voter access cards into touchscreens. Poll workers had to reboot the arena’s 60 voter check-in tablets and re-import voter information, said Fulton Elections Director Richard Barron. “We apologize to all the voters,” Barron said. (John Spink /



Adding more confusion to an already contentious election cycle, some Fulton County voters may be missing a chance to vote for their next state senator.

After Sen. Nikema Williams was chosen to replace U.S. Rep. John Lewis as the Democratic candidate for Georgia’s 5th Congressional District following his death, a special election was called to select her replacement in the state Senate. That special election in Senate District 39 is set to take place alongside the Nov. 3 general election.

ExploreElection 2020: Georgia voter guide

The special election is technically a Democratic primary, since all the candidates are registered as Democrats. However, the winner will replace Williams because no Republican or independent candidates were nominated.

When voting in person, poll workers should ask voters in the 39th District whether they would like to vote in the Democratic primary special election. If a poll worker does not ask, voters can request that the special election be added to their ballots. On absentee ballots, the special election is included if the voter checked a box to indicate that it should be added to their ballot.

Running for Williams' vacated seat are Zan Fort, Sonya Halpern, JoAnna Potts and Linda Pritchett. According to Fort, son of former state Sen. Vincent Fort, voters from the 39th District are not consistently being informed that they can add the special election to their ballots.

“When a voter walks in a polling place and gets the voting card and puts it in the machine, they ought to see all the elections they are eligible to vote in," Fort said. "Anything less is voter suppression.”

In records supplied by the Fort campaign, a voter who communicated with his team said Fulton poll workers appeared to think the special Democratic primary election was an error. The voter told poll workers that a race was missing from their ballot, so poll workers called the secretary of state’s office and the Fulton County Board of Elections before recalibrating their voter card to include the special election.

Fulton officials said poll workers should inform 39th District voters about the special election. “At the request of the secretary of state’s office, voters in the 39th District are advised that there is a partisan primary on the Nov. 3 ballot and that they are eligible to participate,” county spokesperson Jessica Corbitt said. “They are then given a choice as to whether they wish to participate in the Democratic primary or not.”

Officials from the secretary of state’s office say the special election is following the typical procedure, which is different than other ballot measures because the contest is a Democratic primary.

“When there is a partisan special election, it is a different and separate ballot," Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs said. “I don’t believe Democrats want a bunch of Republicans to vote in their Democrat special election.”

If necessary, a runoff for the Democratic primary special election will be held Dec. 1.

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