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In-person voting continues in pandemic-delayed Georgia primary

Use of absentee ballots encouraged; social distancing to be enforced at polling places

Georgia is using new touch-screen voting machines this year.
Georgia is using new touch-screen voting machines this year. (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

As coronavirus spread across the United States in March, social distancing became a part of our lives and states began canceling public gatherings, primary elections among the casualties of the pandemic.

Georgia officials first bumped the March 24 presidential primaries to May 19, the scheduled primary for voters to choose party nominees for a U.S. Senate seat, U.S. House members, as well as state and local races. In April, as infections and deaths continued to climb, election day was pushed back again to June 9.

What races are on the ballot?

Election officials have urged voters to vote by mail, sending absentee ballot request forms to all 6.9 million active voters in the state. And people have responded in large numbers, with more than 1.4 million ballots requested and more 360,000 already returned by the third week of May.

In 2016, the last presidential election year, just 37,231 absentee ballots were cast in Georgia’s primary.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger last week estimated that half of Georgia voters will vote by mail this election, when typically around 5% to 7% do so.

While it’s not too late to request an absentee ballot (visit mvp.sos.ga.gov), in-person voting in all Georgia counties continues Mondays through Fridays until June 5 and at least once voting site in each county is open on Saturday, May 30.

Raffensperger said in an interview Monday from the Cobb County election site that it’s been “a very orderly, safe process” so far.

“People are moving through the lines that we do have,” Raffensperger said. “I think it’s as safe and as healthy of a process as it can be with the situation that we have with COVID-19.”

ONLINE: Locations, hours to early vote in your county

The state was sued last week over potential voter confusion because mail ballots sent to voters still featured the May election date and there were no instructions in the ballot package explaining that the election date had been moved.

U.S. District Judge Timothy Batten rejected the lawsuit, noting that even those who filed the lawsuit acknowledge that state officials have taken steps to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Although they may not think those efforts are sufficient, he wrote, that is “a classic political question involving policy choices” and it isn’t the role of the courts to “second-guess coordinate branches of government on matters explicitly committed to them.”

What to expect if you go to vote

As state law requires three weeks of in-person early voting before Election Day, in-person voting while social distancing starts Monday. Voters will be offered hand sanitizer as they arrive, stand 6 feet apart and, in some counties, tap a touchscreen with a stylus instead of a finger at vote at machines that are spaced further apart than usual.

In some places, poll workers will ask voters to wait in their cars until it’s their turn to vote. Officials will wear gloves, and they’ll frequently wipe down touchscreens. Voting booths will be spread farther apart than usual.

“If you choose to vote in person, please continue to practice social distancing and stay home if you are sick,” Raffensperger said.

The primary will be the first statewide test of Georgia’s new voting machines, which combines familiar touchscreen machines with printed-out paper ballots. Voters can check their ballots before inserting them into scanners attached to ballot boxes.

All precincts will be open for voting 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on June 9.

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