Editorial: Georgia primary lesson: Absentee voting is the future
There will be many take-aways from the debacle that unfolded in Georgia on Tuesday, when metro Atlanta was home to the latest primary mess in the 2020 election cycle.
People waited in line for hours, some past midnight. An incalculable number of people gave up without voting. The problems were myriad: malfunctioning voting machines; fewer election workers; equipment that wasn't ready when polls opened; workers who were poorly trained. Adding to voter confusion was that about 10% of the region's polling places were closed because of the coronavirus.
Georgia's problems appear to stem from human error, a lack of sufficient foresight (not enough provisional ballots on hand in case machines malfunctioned) and no shortage of partisan bickering. And Georgia had already postponed its primary for two weeks.
Human and mechanical error can be fixed; the wild card here is the pandemic. Illinois got its primary done only days before the stay-at-home order. Sixteen other states and two territories either postponed primaries during the height of the pandemic -- some more than once -- or switched to mail-in ballots with extended deadlines.
One that didn't reschedule was Wisconsin, and what happened on April 7 was nothing short of terrifying. In Milwaukee, where only five of 180 precincts were open for voting, people chose whether to vote and risk the coronavirus, or stay home.
For Illinoisans, the Georgia (and Wisconsin) experience should add to the increasing mountain of evidence that with the possibility of a second COVID-19 wave, a smooth absentee voting system will be critical to a successful November election.
Illinois lawmakers have already passed legislation to send applications for absentee ballots to millions of voters: anyone who voted in 2018 or later, people who have recently moved, and the recently registered. (If you don't fit into these categories you can request a mail-in ballot like always).
The absentee ballot challenge is three-pronged: the legislation, which Gov. J.B. Pritzker is expected to sign; expanding the system's capacity to take millions more absentee ballots; and convincing voters that this is not only a viable system but a necessary one.
For many citizens, voting is a duty, a time-honored tradition and nothing less than a noble act. There is something satisfying about entering a polling place, making your choices, and collecting your "I voted" sticker.
Yes, getting used to mailing our ballots will take some time. And while we're at it, we might as well start adjusting to the idea we may not have reportable results on election night. What does that matter, if an election is free and fair?
Absentee balloting has been tested, successfully. It's working for other states. It will work for us. It's time.