An early voter, who wore gloves to cast their ballot, shows off their sticker at the Gwinnett County Voter Registration and Elections Office in Lawrenceville. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Photo: Alyssa Pointer
Photo: Alyssa Pointer

Fulton increases precinct hours to protect public, poll workers

Fulton County early voting precincts will open two hours earlier and physical changes are coming to some polling places, both in hopes of reducing the spread of COVID-19.

Starting Wednesday, polls will open at 7 a.m. instead of 9 a.m. Officials hope the extra time will help voters and poll workers avoid an early-morning queue that has been hard to reduce.

On Monday, the first day of early voting, people waited in socially distanced lines for hours and poll workers became concerned about potentially catching the virus.

The county elections board held an emergency meeting Tuesday to address the concerns.

READ | Social distancing leads to some lines as Georgia early voting begins

“I want on record that I have a responsibility for the health of my poll workers, and I want to safeguard them because they’re on the frontline for hours a day in these rooms,” said Fulton’s director of registration and elections Richard Barron.

With the presidential primary already postponed two times, elections officials knew this would be bumpy. But Barron said he was surprised at situations like the 80-person line at the South Fulton Service Center on Monday.

The board’s discussion addressed where people would walk in and out of buildings, or where staff could move tables and computers. Hours after the meeting, the county announced the changes.

Later this week, extra voting machines will be added to the Garden Hills Elementary School and Sandy Springs Library precincts. On Thursday, the Alpharetta Library precincts will get extra space. And on Wednesday, the C.T. Martin Recreation Center on the westside will move into a larger room and the South Fulton center in College Park will expand into additional space. The lines were longest Monday at those two precincts.

READ | More Georgians voted by mail than in-person on Day 1 of early voting

Board member Aaron Johnson said he visited the southside precinct on Monday and saw many things that need to improve — from providing water bottles and chairs for people in the long line to voter education. Johnson said he saw two people in line with their absentee ballots in-hand.

Already, 400,000 people statewide have submitted absentee-by-mail ballots. The state and county are encouraging voting by mail to limit exposure to the virus, which is why there are fewer places for in-person early voting.

The changes are happening as Fulton, the state’s most-populated county, is implementing the largest rollout of new elections equipment in U.S. history. Barron’s staff said there were reports of the scanners jamming on Monday.

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Current statewide hospitalizations for COVID-19 dropped by about a third in the last two weeks, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis of data published by the Georgia Emergency Management & Homeland Security Agency.

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