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They may not agree on many things, but the two candidates vying for the right to represent Coastal Georgia in the House of Representatives are united on this issue: that it’s more important than ever for Georgians to turn out and vote this Election Day.
But U.S. Rep. Earl L. “Buddy” Carter, R-Pooler, and his Democratic challenger from Savannah, Joyce Marie Griggs, disagree, however, on whether the vote this November will be fair. Carter, who has represented Georgia’s First Congressional District for the last six years, believes that local election officials have fixed problems of access and equity regarding who can vote and how ballots will be counted. Griggs, who is running for public office for the first time, isn’t so sure.
In the months leading up to Election Day, Americans have been accosted with contradictory information about whether the electoral system is flawed or possibly ripe for fraud, especially in the current climate of hyperpartisanship. In Georgia, those doubts increased in June after the state struggled to roll out its expensive new voting machines and the coronavirus upended traditional voting patterns.
Last week, prior to the start of early voting in Georgia, America’s leading intelligence officials responsible for keeping voting safe took the unprecedented step of releasing a video meant to restore faith in American elections in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. That race was scrutinized due to Russian interference on behalf of President Donald Trump, something the American leader disputes. Since then, Trump and his campaign officials have made frequent, yet unsubstantiated, claims of the likelihood of voter fraud in the lead up to the upcoming election.
Carter, a former pharmacist who grew up in Port Wentworth, said he has confidence in the local county elections officials who oversee and manage voting across Georgia to run a fair and trustworthy poll.
“Voting is one of our most sacred rights as Americans. And we should all exercise that right,” Carter said. “I do believe that in the state of Georgia we can trust the process. States are responsible for organizing and managing elections and our state has done a good job in running elections.”
Griggs, the daughter of a sharecropper and retired Army officer, says her experience with voting in Coastal Georgia in the June primary makes her more wary. COVID-19 forced county election officials to close many voting precincts, and a greater-than-average number of absentee ballots caused delays in tallying final votes.
“People need to go vote like their lives depended on it. But I differ on whether voting is safe in the State of Georgia,” she said. “There’s too much [history with] voter suppression.”
Those opposing views have been echoed in national conversations about voting as far back as 2013, when the Supreme Court overturned portions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which had demolished administrative and legal hurdles constructed by many Southern states preventing Blacks from voting. Since then, voting in Georgia has sparked controversy, especially the 2018 gubernatorial race during which Democrats claimed that Republican officials deprived them of fair elections.
As the 2020 presidential race has picked up pace, White House officials have turned the question of fairness to their own re-election campaign. During the first presidential debate on Sept. 29, Trump suggested the upcoming election could be “rigged” or “fraudulent” due to the increased use of mail-in ballots. Election experts have concluded that voting fraud is virtually nonexistent in America.
“This is going to be a fraud like you’ve never seen,” said the president, who is trailing Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in national polls.
In the video released last week, Federal Bureau of Investigations Director Christopher Wray disagreed with Trump, a message he also delivered in congressional testimony on Sept. 17. Rather than fraud, Wray said his greatest concern about voting is “the steady drumbeat of misinformation” about the integrity of the election.
“I think Americans can and should have confidence in our election system and certainly in our democracy,” Wray said. “But I worry that people will take on a feeling of futility because of all of the noise and confusion that’s generated.”
Rep. Carter, who has attended several congressional committee hearings on the subject of election security, says he believes in the integrity of the voting process in Georgia and elsewhere in America. However, he shares some of the administration’s concerns about states which, due to concerns about COVID-19, have started mail-in voting for the first time in 2020. That procedure that has long been in practice in Georgia.
“What the administration is talking about really are seven states that are starting mail-in ballots for the first time. I have concerns about those states because doing anything for the first time opens up questions for problems and for fraud,” he said. “But the FBI director is correct. Our election systems are safe.”
Griggs, meanwhile, says that the best way to ensure fair elections in Georgia is through a diligent effort to monitor poll workers across the seventeen counties of Coastal Georgia that encompass District 1.
“We’ve been working hard to make sure that there are properly trained workers,” she said. “There will be a lot of eyes watching the count, more than ever before.”
Georgia voters have a variety of methods to vote this fall, choices that should help calm concerns about the electoral system. Voters can cast ballots early and in person starting Oct. 12 until Oct. 30. They can fill out an absentee ballot and mail it back to the county elections’ offices or drop a completed absentee ballot in a secure lock box which is overseen by the same local officials. Or, they can vote the traditional way: in person on Election Day Nov. 3.
“I think the most important thing to me about this election is to vote. No matter what way you do it, early or in person or by absentee. Vote no matter what,” says Carter.