Network news cover Georgia election “meltdown” — to mixed results

ABC News gave scant coverage, and missed key issues completely in order to blame local Democratic officials

The three major broadcast networks have each begun covering the debacle that took place in Tuesday’s primary election in Georgia, where many waited in hours-long lines to vote.

CBS, NBC, and ABC all aired segments on the Georgia voting mess, with CBS providing the most complete picture. NBC also covered it reasonably well — obtaining what might be the single most memorable image of the story — but ABC missed crucial points.

Former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed tweeted that it took him nearly three hours to vote. Jason Esteves, chair of the Atlanta Board of Education, tweeted photos of the extremely long line for him to vote, and complained that his absentee ballot had never arrived, declaring, “This is how voter suppression happens.”

By contrast, NBC News reported that things went much easier in the mostly white Atlanta suburb of Roswell: “Brian Takahashi voted there and said ‘it went well.’ 

“‘There were problems with the voting systems for approximately 25 minutes. Afterwards, it was smooth sailing,’ he said, estimating that he was ‘out the door’ in 20 minutes after the problem was resolved.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that trouble setting up new voting machines contributed to the long lines, with poll workers unable to get them up and running. Meanwhile, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is blaming local officials in the Atlanta area, while Democratic DeKalb County executive Michael Thurmond is blaming Raffensperger over both the machines’ reliability and the worker training that was needed.

While the issues may have been most prominent in the Atlanta area, problems were not confined there, either, with local TV stations in both Columbus and Savannah reporting technical difficulties in those places. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted that the secretary of state’s office had “dispatched tech support contractors across the state, but they were overwhelmed by calls when precincts opened at 7 a.m.”

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic presented another serious problem, with diminished staffing and fewer voting sites. CNN reported that some areas would have “‘mega polling sites’ with more than 10,000 voters assigned to the site.” (Indeed, shortages of precinct workers — many of whom tend to be senior citizens — as a result of the pandemic is emerging as a serious national problem.)

Politico also reported on what seemed like a clear difference between the situation in urban, minority areas, and the much smoother time that people in the suburbs had even just during the early voting period. LaTosha Brown, co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund, told the site that it took her nephew six hours to vote on Friday — and then on Monday, she saw no line in an Atlanta suburb.

“I come over to this side of town, and white folks are strolling in,” Brown told the site. “On my side of town, we brought stadium chairs.”

CBS News did the best job

CBS Evening News with Norah O’Donnell gave the story a minute-and-a-half-long segment among Tuesday’s headlines, showing long lines and “inexperienced volunteers” dealing with technical problems. In addition, the report quoted Black voters who spoke of their belief about “systematic disenfranchisement,” and CBS News correspondent Ed O’Keefe noted that “Georgia has a history of voter suppression.”

CBS This Morning featured an interview with Stacey Abrams, head of the voting rights group Fair Fight and previously the Democratic nominee for governor of Georgia in 2018. Abrams has campaigned against voter suppression tactics after her narrow defeat in a race that she said featured a “deliberate and intentional disinvestment” in crucial election infrastructure such as polling places and worker training.

Co-host Gayle King noted that Abrams had already been scheduled to appear in order to promote her new book — but the new circumstances proved fortuitous, as Abrams could deliver an in-depth perspective.

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Citation From the June 10, 2020, edition of CBS News’ CBS This Morning

STACEY ABRAMS: The ability for voter suppression to work is almost complete. Georgia has seen this before. Yesterday was, I think, one of the most egregious examples.

And I want to be clear, it wasn’t simply targeted — or certainly it didn’t simply happen in Democratic strongholds. It happened across the state. Because one of the problems with voter suppression, with the incompetence and malfeasance that we see in the secretary of state’s office in Georgia, is that while the target may be communities of color — may be voters of color, or Democratic voters — it hits everyone.

The long lines happened mostly in the urban areas, but we had to see extensions in Democratic and Republican areas, including the Republican area represented by the Republican speaker of the House. This is a complete meltdown and failure of the secretary of state’s office.

Abrams also revealed a personal detail of the difficulties with the vote-by-mail increase that occurred in Georgia: While she did receive an absentee ballot, the return envelope arrived already sealed shut. Despite her efforts to unseal it with steam, she ultimately had to go out on primary day to vote.

NBC News gives a solid showing

NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt devoted a similar minute-and-a-half-long segment to the developing story, with the anchor noting the problems occurred “particularly in areas with higher Black populations.” In addition, correspondent Blayne Alexander delivered the memorable image of a mother sitting on a lawn chair with her baby under an umbrella in the pounding rain while she waited to vote.

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Citation From the June 9, 2020, edition of NBC News’ NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt

The network aired a slightly expanded and updated version of that report on the Today show the next morning. The two segments covered a lot of necessary ground, as Alexander described a “perfect storm” in which Georgia “unveiled new voting machines statewide, right in the middle of a pandemic.”

ABC News gets dishonorable mention

ABC’s World News Tonight with David Muir failed to cover the Georgia story at all. Then on Thursday’s edition of Good Morning America, correspondent Steve Osunsami made no mention of problems with the new voting machines — instead mostly blaming local Democratic officials in just the Atlanta area, while acknowledging that the coronavirus pandemic caused a staff shortage.

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Citation From the June 10, 2020, edition of ABC News’ Good Morning America

STEVE OSUNSAMI (ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT): No question, this was a disaster, and a lot of anger this morning is being directed at the secretary of state. He's blaming the counties; the counties are blaming him. He's calling for an investigation into what the counties did wrong. There were long lines as late as midnight in both Black and white neighborhoods.

And while it is very easy for Democratic lawmakers and other figures to say this was all about race, and an intent to suppress the vote, that's not a fair telling of what happened in this particular vote. The coronavirus is more to blame. Poll workers, many of them seniors who were afraid of getting sick, failed to show. Polling precincts that were at churches, assisted living centers, and senior centers had to be moved. Both of those things happened because of the coronavirus.

And these happened, these things happened, in blue counties run by Democrats who were well aware of these issues before yesterday. Fulton County admits that it lost thousands of requests for absentee ballots. In a statement addressing this, Fulton County's director of elections says they've identified areas of improvement. They need to get it together, of course, before the election in November.