Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) said Tuesday it was actually a good thing that voters in his state had to wait hours in line to cast ballots on Election Day.
“Georgia has 3.5 weeks of early voting. We discussed the long lines. That actually should be applauded. We have long lines because a lot of people wanted to vote,” Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said Tuesday during a hearing on H.R. 1, a bill Democrats are pushing in the House that includes a number of voting reforms, including requiring early voting and same-day voter registration.
Voters in Georgia waited for hours at the polls on Nov. 6 amid technical glitches that included voting machines not being plugged in. In Georgia’s Gwinnett County, people stood in line for nearly five hours to vote. The voting problems attracted additional scrutiny because the state’s top election official, Brian Kemp (R), was in a closely watched race for governor, and critics said it was a conflict of interest for him to oversee the election. (Kemp won.) Collins said issues at the polls are the responsibility of local officials, not the secretary of state.
Sherrilyn Ifill, the president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, testified at the hearing and strongly disagreed with Collins.
“The long lines that we see are a testament to our failure. They are a monument of the failure of our democracy to invest in the casting of ballots and in the right that the Supreme Court has said is preservative of all rights,” she said. “I cannot imagine how anyone could think that voters waiting on line in the morning for four hours in Gwinnett County, Georgia, because the machines lacked the power cords — how anyone could think that was a good thing.”
“It is an embarrassment and a disgrace that we compel people to stand four hours on a line waiting to exercise their rights as citizens to participate in the political process,” she added.
Vanita Gupta, another witness and the president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, also said the long lines were not acceptable.
“I think that there is simply no reason that the United States of America, the wealthiest nation in the world, would not have sufficient poll sites, a number of poll sites, so people can vote and not have to wait in four-hour lines. There’s simply no excuse for it,” she said.
After Ifill’s and Gupta’s testimony, Collins said he wanted to make it clear that he meant that the long lines were indicators of a healthy democracy. He said his state had seen an increase in turnout among African-American and Hispanic voters.
“To imply that I would say that long lines are a showing of problematic system in our elections — no, mine was a compliment,” he said.