Social Distancing Leads to Lines as Georgia Early Voting Begins

May 19, 2020by Mark Niesse, Amanda C. Coyne, Kristal Dixon and Adrianne Murchison, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (TNS)
Empty voting booths at Magee school in Round Lake, Ill. Polling indicates two-thirds of Americans feel the coronavirus outbreak will significantly impact the ability to vote in this fall's presidential election. (Jerry Tomaselli/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

ATLANTA — Some voters encountered lines when early voting began Monday for Georgia’s primary as election workers kept people 6 feet apart, allowed only a few inside at a time and cleaned touchscreens after each voter.

Turnout appeared to be relatively light, but voters still had to wait their turn. Lines were also slowed by voters who requested absentee ballots but then had to cancel them when they showed up at early voting locations.

Though more than 1.4 million voters have requested absentee ballots, in-person voting is still an option. Early voting lasts for three weeks until June 5, and primary election day is June 9.

“I haven’t heard any disagreement and hollering. People are being patient. They understand the situation,” Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said as people voted at the Cobb County elections office.

Voters who asked for an absentee ballot should wait for it to arrive in the mail and then use it rather than slowing down in-person voting, he said.

“Don’t change horses midstream,” Raffensperger said. “It really will work a whole lot better.”

In-person voters were greeted by changes at early voting locations during the coronavirus pandemic.

Poll workers wore masks and gloves. Precincts provided styluses so voters wouldn’t have to use their fingers on touchscreens. Voters were offered hand sanitizer before and after voting.

Several Georgians who chose to vote in person said they felt their vote was more secure than if they had mailed it in.

About 3% of absentee ballots were rejected in the 2018 election, often because voters didn’t fill out their information correctly or their ballots were received after the election day deadline.

“I don’t feel confident with absentee ballots, so I came out to vote in person,” said Earlean Blackwell of Powder Springs after casting her ballot.

Voters must be quickly notified when election officials reject their absentee ballots, giving them time to correct problems, according to a March settlement of a lawsuit against the state.

Waits in Cobb County were as long as 70 minutes Monday morning but diminished to 20 minutes by midafternoon.

“The process is much slower than before due to distancing and sanitation requirements,” Cobb County Elections Director Janine Eveler said.

A reduction in the number of early voting locations also contributed to waits.

Fewer early voting locations were available than normal because of coronavirus-related limitations in metro Atlanta’s core counties: five in Cobb County, eight in DeKalb County, five in Fulton County and six in Gwinnett County. Hours and dates vary for each location.

“Whenever you start with a line, you end up playing catch-up,” Gwinnett County Elections Director Kristi Royston said. “We’re grateful for them coming out to vote and having patience with us. I think they’re getting used to the ‘stand here, wait here’ procedures.”

In Fulton County, only half of voting computers were in use at a time in an effort to keep people apart from each other, Elections Director Richard Barron said. Nearly all voters wore masks, he said.

The county was still catching up on a backlog of absentee ballot requests from people who plan to vote by mail. About 110,000 out of 135,000 absentee ballot requests have been processed so far.

Early voters are using the state’s new $104 million voting system, which combines touchscreens with the addition of printed-out paper ballots. Voters can check their ballots before inserting them into scanners attached to locked ballot boxes.

All registered voters are eligible to participate in the primary, and they can choose to vote on either political party’s ballot or a nonpartisan ballot.

Ballots include candidates for president, Congress, the Georgia General Assembly, judges and local offices.

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©2020 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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