Jennifer Jones, a graduate student at Morehouse School of Medicine, appeared on the second day of early voting for her district’s Fulton County, Georgia midterm election. She was looking forward to casting her ballot for her chosen candidates in the gubernatorial and state elections, Stacey Abrams and Senator Raphael Warnock. However, when she reached the check-in station at the polling station, she was told she would not be able to cast a regular vote as her validity as a voter was being questioned.
“When I turned in my ID, the poll worker said I’m being challenged,” Jones said. “They said I had to complete a preliminary vote, but I wasn’t really comfortable with it, so I couldn’t cast my vote that day.”
Under the state’s new electoral integrity law, Georgia citizens may challenge a voter’s eligibility to vote on state electoral rolls an unlimited number of times. Spurred by unsubstantiated claims that the 2020 election was riddled with voter fraud, right-wing groups across the state have staged thousands of organized challenges, putting even more pressure on the election process for voters, poll workers and poll officials. While most have already been fired, more challenges surfaced ahead of the early vote.
In most cases, voters like Jones don’t know why their status is being challenged in the first place, adding to the confusion.
“The poll worker didn’t tell me why I was being challenged, even after I asked someone else for help,” Jones said. “They kept telling me I had to vote with a provisional ballot.”
Georgia voters turned out in record numbers during the first week of early voting, casting their ballots in the two crucial elections, the gubernatorial and state elections. However, as the election progresses, the impact of the new electoral laws in Georgia continues to unfold. Electoral and voter protection organizations across Georgia have prepared for such moments and have worked to educate voters on what to do if they have trouble voting.
“I was discouraged, but I knew I had to ask someone for help and knew I could call Fair Fight and get help,” Jones said.
Fair Fight, a Georgia-based national suffrage organization, has used grassroots campaigning since its inception to educate voters about the resources available to them each election season. When Jones called Fair Fight, the organization put her in touch with Helen Butler and the Election Protection Project.
“I have informed [Helen Butler] what happened and told her I had my ID and my precinct card and everything,” Jones said. “She seemed surprised they didn’t let me vote regularly.”
Butler, the executive director of the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, believes Jones’ ordeal points to a more important issue this election season.
“This whole thing and the new law alienates even more people from the electoral process,” Butler said. “Especially people like Ms Jones, who was targeted and shouldn’t have been simply because the poll worker was unaware of the additional instructions from the State Department.”
My grandmother marched with Dr. Martin Luther King. I’m the next generation she fought for. I won’t stop fighting Jennifer Jones
These additional instructions from the Secretary of State explain that counties should work on behalf of the rejected voter by allowing poll workers to verify a voter’s residency in the constituency when they receive proof of the voter’s address or provide voters with a confirmation of residency get signed form. Once a voter has completed these steps, which can be performed on-site, the voter should then be given access to a regular ballot.
However, Butler claims that this process was not initially made clear. “The first notification they sent out wasn’t very clear, but the second notification gave clearer guidance,” she said. “Somewhere down the line, maybe because the county isn’t updating poll workers, there’s a misunderstanding.”
For Butler and other electoral law organizers, these instances of electoral misunderstandings stem from the state’s new electoral law.
“SB202, that dial integrity [Act], highlighted that people can now complete unlimited challenges,” said Butler. “And while people have always been able to challenge the ballot rolls, this again creates a problem and creates distrust and ultimately seeks to limit who has access to the ballots.”
Jones is just one of the voters whose distrust of Georgia’s electoral process has grown this election season. “I feel disenfranchised, especially as a black voter and because of the way I vote,” she said. “I know they offered a provisional ballot, but I just didn’t know if it would be counted correctly.”
Another aspect of the new electoral law is the new regulations relating to the provisional elections. While Jones’ case wouldn’t necessarily fall under that aspect of the law, which says provisional ballots filed outside of the constituency aren’t counted, she says her broader distrust of the electoral process discouraged her from taking part in it select the day with a provisional ballot. Nonetheless, Jones knows how important it is to go through with this process and resolve the challenge to her voting rights. She still plans to vote that choice.
“My grandmother marched with Dr. Martin Luther King; My family fought for it,” Jones said. “I’m the next generation she fought for and I won’t let go. I will not risk casting my vote. I will not stop fighting and I will not be satisfied given the difficulty of this process.”