Gwinnett approves early voting schedule with fewer hours, locations

Stickers are displayed on a table during the Gwinnett County MARTA referendum special election at Harvest Community Church of the Nazarene in Lilburn, Tuesday, March 19, 2019. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM) AJC FILE PHOTO
Stickers are displayed on a table during the Gwinnett County MARTA referendum special election at Harvest Community Church of the Nazarene in Lilburn, Tuesday, March 19, 2019. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM) AJC FILE PHOTO

Gwinnett County's fairgrounds will be an early voting location later this month, where it will be easier to spread voters six feet apart. But three typical early voting locations where social distancing is more difficult will not open for the June 9 election.

County commissioners Tuesday approved an early voting plan after months of delays while they waited to see what the coronavirus pandemic would do to the need to keep people apart and poll workers' willingness to work. The schedule, approved in a 3-2 vote, will allow for 18 days of early voting at two locations, including the fairgrounds, and seven days at four other locations.

Commissioner Ben Ku, who voted against the early voting schedule, said he didn’t think the county was “doing anything intentionally to disenfranchise anybody” but that he wished more early voting options — including on Sunday morning — were available for residents.

"I'm disappointed with all the cutbacks," he said.

The last countywide election, a March 2019 special election vote to extend MARTA into the county, had 19 days of early voting at the main elections office and 12 at seven early voting locations. Members of the county's elections board had asked the county to expand early voting to 19 days at eight early voting locations for 2020. The plan that was passed Tuesday has fewer locations and fewer hours.

At the main elections office, voting hours will be 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 18 to June 5, with two exceptions: Sunday voting will take place from noon to 7 p.m. and the office will be closed on Memorial Day. The fairgrounds will also be open for voting May 18 to June 5, but from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday hours will also be from noon to 7 p.m. and the fairgrounds will be closed for voting on Memorial Day.

The four other early voting locations — Bogan Park Community Recreation Center, George Pierce Community Recreation Center, Lenora Park Gym and Lucky Shoals Park Recreation Center — will be open from May 30 to June 5. The hours will be 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., except for Sunday, when they will be noon to 7 p.m.

Other county buildings that are usually early voting locations at Dacula Park in Dacula, Mountain Park Activity Center near Stone Mountain and Shorty Howell Park near Tucker will not have early voting this time. Kristi Royston, the county’s elections supervisor, said it would be too difficult to maintain social distancing standards at those locations.

After a surge in requests for absentee ballots, though, Royston said she plans to put ballot drop-off boxes at those three typical early voting locations, in addition to the six places will early voting will happen. As of Monday, about 95,000 county residents had requested absentee ballots, Royston said. The county had processed about 57,000 of them.

Royston told county commissioners that in making the early voting schedule, she wanted to ensure voters, poll workers and staffers could all be safe. Some poll workers — many of whom are elderly, and so will remain under a stay-at-home order until after the election — have already said they don’t intend to work; others have said they are wait-and-see.

“We’re in unprecedented times right now,” Royston said. “We have to analyze what we can do best for everyone.”

Tommy Hunter, the other no vote on the county commission, had other reasons for opposing the schedule. In a text message, Hunter said he was “tired of the perversion of our electoral process.”

“We are suppose to have Election DAY not Election MONTH,” he wrote.