To alleviate long lines, Fulton to extend hours of polling sites next week

After days of long socially distanced lines, Fulton County is again extending the opening hours of early voting precincts.

Fulton’s elections head Richard Barron said during a media briefing Wednesday that the polls will stay open until 7 p.m. instead of 4:30 p.m. starting on Monday.

Part of the reason for long lines was a backlog of absentee ballot applications stuck in a county server. That left people in the dark about where their ballot was, so when early voting began, some stopped waiting and came to vote in person.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger mailed absentee ballot request forms to the state's roughly 6.9 million voters to avoid people getting sick from voting in person.

Barron said voters whose applications were processed over the weekend or on Tuesday will likely receive their ballots from a contractor in Arizona late next week. But as of now, he said, anyone whose state "My Voter" page doesn't give a status for their application should call the county at 404-612-7060.

READ | Fulton adds COVID-19 testing to three polling places this week

When asked about the backlog, which was cleared Tuesday, Barron told reporters there were multiple factors. He mentioned the COVID-19 death of an elections employee, 62-year-old Riverdale grandmother Beverly Walker on April 10.

“Six of the first nine days after we started receiving applications, we either were closed for decontamination or the staff that was handling that, one of their coworkers died. We had a couple special circumstances,” he said.

Barron added that they now have six early voting sites, but before the pandemic were planning to have two dozen. They made the reduction as a safety measure and figuring people would vote by mail — but that led to even longer lines.

“This is a completely different election than what we’ve run before,” he said.

The county added another polling place this week — Wolf Creek Library, 3100 Enon Road — but Barron said Wednesday the county is also looking to add a couple precincts as soon as he can secure the staff to run the sites.

Finding people willing to sit in an enclosed room for hours at a time interacting with the public isn’t ever easy, but that is even more difficult during a viral pandemic.

He said he’s had 200 to 300 workers for Election Day drop out due to fear of getting sick. And since mid-April, “we’ve been losing polling places almost daily,” Barron said.

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