As coronavirus looms, Fulton decides to allow voting at senior homes

The new voting stations used during the mock election for Fulton County on Tuesday, February 18, 2020, at the Roswell Library in Roswell, Georgia.  Fulton County held a mock election to test out its new voting machines and system. (Christina Matacotta for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
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The new voting stations used during the mock election for Fulton County on Tuesday, February 18, 2020, at the Roswell Library in Roswell, Georgia. Fulton County held a mock election to test out its new voting machines and system. (Christina Matacotta for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Credit: Christina Matacotta

The public will be able to vote at senior facilities in two weeks for the presidential primary election despite some Fulton County elections board members feeling that puts seniors at risk of getting coronavirus.

“It’s an unnecessary risk that we should not take,” board member Dr. Kathleen Ruth said at a Thursday meeting.

This mirrors worries from other officials around the country, some of which have chosen to remove polling places from nursing homes/other senior care facilities because seniors are more susceptible to COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus.

READ | Second Fulton teacher has coronavirus, Woodland will stay closed longer


The head of elections in Ohio on Monday ordered polling places at nursing homes, which totals more than 140, be moved eight days before the state's primary.

The 12,289 voters at Fulton’s five precincts inside senior homes will get letters asking them to vote absentee by mail for the safety of the seniors, said Fulton elections director Rick Barron.

That is in line with the advice of county attorney Patrise Perkins-Hooker, who strongly discouraged the board from moving the polling locations.

If so, “we’re going to have a lot of litigation and negative press,” she said. “ ... The public will think that we’re doing something to disenfranchise them on the day of election.”

“I understand from the county attorney, but where do you want the lawsuit to come from?” said board member Mark Wingate.


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Wingate agreed with Ruth — they are the two appointed Republicans to the board, which also has two appointed Democrats — and felt they should close the senior facility precincts.

The lone Democrat board member at the meeting, Aaron Johnson, agreed with the county attorney that moving the polling places would look bad.

The precincts will stay in place, but elections staff are working with the private facilities to see if there are ways, like different entrances or building temporary walls, to avoid the public being around seniors.

Barron said that the county-owned senior centers with precincts will not hold events on the March 24 Election Day and be cleaned after before allowing seniors to re-enter.


READ | Coronavirus exposes gaps in infection controls for senior-care homes


But Ruth warned it may not be so easy and that these facilities might back out even closer to election day over fear of their at-risk customer/residents.

“The decision could be made for us,” Ruth said.

If that happens? Barron said they have five back-up facilities planned — a mix of churches, county facilities and schools.

Barron also gave an update on how they are dealing with the virus right now amid early voting, which began March 2.

As of Wednesday, he said, 24,254 had voted early, which amounts to a 3.9% turnout.


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He said four poll workers have dropped out over coronavirus concerns. But Barron said he is making sure his staff is cleaning touchscreens at precincts, some six times a day.

Good hygiene could become even more dire considering the increased energy around elections.

In February, 35,000 people applied to register — which Barron said is more than double the amount in 2016 and more than triple 2012.

“We’ve never had a February like this,” he said.

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