By Kassie Bracken and
During Georgia’s June primary, frustrated voters documented long waits at polls in social media messages like this and this. Kevin A. Cronin captured the opposite — a nearly empty polling place in Sandy Springs, an Atlanta suburb. “Oh look,” he said after he put his absentee ballot in a drop-box, “no line at all out here in suburban white country.” Sandy Springs is 80 percent white. Mr. Cronin said he felt moved to start recording after seeing the hourslong wait at the more racially diverse polling location where his wife was voting. Drone footage captured lines stretching across the equivalent of football fields.
In the first of a four-part video series about the mechanics of voting and how it might affect our election, we went to Georgia, where a growing Black and Latino population is on the precipice of exercising its political voice, if people get the chance to vote.
We’ve seen long wait times in Georgia before, in the 2016 general election, and then again, two years later during a close governor’s race. Multiple studies have supported what the visuals showed: Nationally, Black voters wait on average 45 percent longer to vote than white voters, and are more likely to wait more than 30 minutes to cast a ballot. But those scenes would have probably been mitigated by federal regulations that protected voters of color up until 2013. That year, the Supreme Court struck down a crucial provision in the 1965 Voting Rights Act, called Section 5 preclearance.
This required all jurisdictions with a history of racist voting practices to get approval from the Department of Justice before making any changes to their voting laws, such as poll relocations or closures, voter roll purges or new ID requirements. The day the ruling came down, multiple states immediately moved to create new laws that have made it more difficult for people of color to vote.
As the coronavirus pandemic forced election directors across the country to adapt and create new procedures, voting rights advocates worry the pandemic will only exacerbate the inequities.
Georgia has 16 electoral votes and two Senate seats at stake, and the primary offered warning signs for what could happen in November. Fulton County, one of four counties that make up the Atlanta metro area, had to close a record number of polling places when traditional locations — churches, schools and libraries — pulled out over concerns about spreading the virus.
Voters of color and voters in predominantly Democratic neighborhoods in Georgia experienced wait times 50 minutes longer than white voters during the June primary, according to an expert analysis for a lawsuit prompted by the long lines. Debo Adegbile, the lawyer who unsuccessfully tried Shelby County v. Holder before the Supreme Court, said that with the ruling, the country lost protections that would have applied even in extreme circumstances like a pandemic. “Yes, changes need to be made for public health reasons,” he said.
“We’re concerned that these changes will be used as an excuse to impose barriers on minority voters in a way that could not have happened had Shelby County not been decided the way it was decided.”
Producers Alexandra Eaton and Kassie Bracken
Video Editors Noah Troop, Kevin Oliver
Additional Reporting Richard Fausset, Astead W. Herndon
Assistant Editor Meg Felling
Cinematography Yousur Al-hlou, Mariam Dwedar, Chris Anthony Hamilton, Arthur Thompson
Graphics Aaron Byrd
Sound Mix Fraser McCulloch
Color Sam Daley
Additional Editing Will Lloyd, Ainara Tiefenthäler
Associate Producer Jenny Catherall
Archival Research Meg Felling, Dahlia Kozlowsky
Additional Production Michael Cordero, Abraham Sater
Senior Producer Sameen Amin
Director of Cinematography Jonah M. Kessel
Executive Producer Solana Pyne