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Why Georgia Is Facing Long Lines At The Polls

TONYA MOSLEY, HOST:

Recent elections in Georgia have been marked by long lines at the polls for some voters, especially in nonwhite communities around metro Atlanta. And a new investigation by ProPublica and Georgia Public Broadcasting found that rapid population growth and a failure to add more polling places has contributed to the state's voting problems. Joining us now is Stephen Fowler, reporter and host of Battleground: Ballot Box, a voting podcast by Georgia Public Broadcasting.

Hey there, Stephen.

STEPHEN FOWLER, BYLINE: Hi, Tonya.

MOSLEY: So in the story you wrote about this investigation, you say that since 2012, nine metro Atlanta counties have been added, nearly a million more voters to the rolls. But the number of polling places in those counties have either closed or stayed stagnant. What has this meant for elections in Georgia?

FOWLER: Well, the average number of people assigned to a polling place statewide in Georgia has jumped nearly 50% since 2012. But that's also because the number of voting locations has been decimated. In 2013, the Shelby v. Holder Supreme Court decision meant Georgia no longer had to get permission to make those changes or had to prove that they were not discriminatory. So what we found in these big metro Atlanta counties where polling places that are two to three times larger than the state average and many of the long lines and problems we've seen in recent elections.

MOSLEY: OK, speaking of these lines, when early voting started in Georgia last week, we saw these pictures of people waiting up to eight hours to cast their ballots in some of these metro Atlanta counties. How does that connect to this larger story about access to the polls?

FOWLER: Well, there were some technical issues and record turnout last week, but many voters were just trying to avoid long Election Day lines, like 71-year-old John Glover told us.

JOHN GLOVER: I have voted every election, and I never had standing in line this long. But it's worth your while. I'm prepared to stand eight hours if I have to.

FOWLER: Simply put, Black voters in particular don't trust Georgia elections officials to ensure they can easily cast their ballot. And they're willing to do whatever it takes for such a big election.

MOSLEY: OK, so as we've seen in many states, people can vote in Georgia either by mail, early in-person or Election Day. So how does this failure to add more polling places actually impact voters?

FOWLER: Well, Tonya, our analysis found that many of the more crowded polls in the state are in predominantly Black neighborhoods like Union City, just south of Atlanta. There's about 22,000 people assigned to just three polling places this year, making those some of the largest in the state. That's where I talked with a woman named Kathy who waited five hours to vote, and she was one of the lucky ones. The last voter at her polling place in the June 9 primary actually voted June 10. Here's what Kathy had to say about why she thinks it's not a coincidence.

KATHY: When you look at the systemic issues that plague us as a society but also as a people, oftentimes, we're screaming, but we're not being heard.

FOWLER: In fact, the data that we analyzed from the primary showed that two-thirds of the polls that had to stay open late were in these majority-nonwhite communities.

KATHY: Stephen, who's responsible for these decisions to close these polling places or not add additional ones? And what do they have to say about these findings?

FOWLER: Well, there are bipartisan county elections boards that make these decisions in conjunction with their hired supervisors and the county commissions that provide funding for their budgets. It's important to note that this is an issue that affects both white Republican areas of the state as well as Black Democratic strongholds, so it's not a partisan issue. It's ultimately about resources. And what we've seen in the numbers here in Georgia is that Black voters in particular are hit the hardest by not having the same access to resources as white voters.

MOSLEY: Stephen Fowler is the host of Georgia Public Broadcasting's Battleground: Ballot Box, a podcast, and author of a ProPublica investigation into poll closures in Georgia.

Thank you so much.

FOWLER: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.