Storms delay or cancel early voting in 16 Georgia counties

Voters cast their ballots on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020 at State Farm Arena in downtown Atlanta. Friday is the last day of early voting in Georgia.



Voters cast their ballots on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020 at State Farm Arena in downtown Atlanta. Friday is the last day of early voting in Georgia.

Early voting was postponed in at least 16 Georgia counties Thursday because of storm damage and power outages.

In metro Atlanta, Douglas County canceled early voting altogether on the second-to-last day it was available. Crews were working to clean up the damage and restore power in the wake of Tropical Storm Zeta.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said he asked Georgia Power to prioritize restoring power in areas with polling places so that voting can resume Thursday.

“We don’t see there will be an overall impact to voting at this time,” Raffensperger said Thursday. “We still have early voting for the balance of today and tomorrow and obviously the full election on Tuesday.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia called for counties to extend voting hours Thursday, but early voting is still scheduled to conclude Friday. Georgians who aren’t able to vote early can vote on Election Day on Tuesday.

At the Ponce de Leon Library in Fulton County, about 200 voters had to be sent to different voting locations, said Jean D’Amico, a poll watcher for the Democratic Party of Georgia.

“We were without power and have been without power the whole day,” D’Amico said. “It would be nice to have some sort of backup plan or generator, but you can’t really do anything about the weather.”

Six voting locations remained closed and without power early Thursday afternoon: Ponce de Leon Library, Wolf Creek Library, South Fulton Annex, Chastain Park Gym, Milton Library and New Beginnings Senior Center.

State Farm Arena, Georgia’s largest early voting location, will be open until 7 p.m., the county said.

Geoffrey Stiles, vice president of events and facilities at State Farm Arena, said turnout has been pretty steady but not overwhelming. The arena never lost power.

“A lot of people have come out and said ‘Hey, our power was out at home so we decided to come out to vote today,'" Stiles said. “You’re able to socially distance when you are here and vote in a safe environment.”

Stiles said that Fulton County officials are expecting a big turnout Friday for the last day of early voting, and workers are prepared and excited for whatever comes.

In Cobb County, four advance voting locations remained closed late Thursday morning, but seven were open. The county said some sites might not open until later depending on when power is restored.

All but one of Gwinnett County’s early voting sites had power at 7 a.m., and all of them opened on time. Shorty Howell Park started in emergency mode, with half of its equipment operating, but power was restored and all voting machines were available by 7:30 a.m., said county spokesman Joe Sorenson.

“There was very little disruption,” Sorenson said.

Paulding County delayed voting until 10 a.m. at its three locations.

In DeKalb County, voting locations were open as scheduled and prepared with backup batteries and generators, officials said.

Voters in several metro Atlanta counties can check online to find out if their early voting locations are open. Websites for Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties provide wait-time estimates and hours for voting locations.

Voting could continue during power outages by using emergency paper ballots that are kept on hand at polling places. State election rules call for emergency ballots to be used during power outages on Election Day, but those rules don’t apply to early voting.

Early voting was also delayed when poll workers couldn’t get to voting locations or where there wasn’t enough light to see, Raffensperger said.

“Each county runs their own elections,” Raffensperger said. “We want to make sure that we get the power back up. But if they had emergency generators, then they could go ahead and obviously open.”

Friday is the last day of advance voting before Tuesday’s election. Raffensperger said that voters should be ready for long lines during the final days of voting as turnout continues to rise.

In all, turnout could reach 6 million voters, with about 2 million people expected on Election Day and the rest casting their ballots at in-person early voting sites or by returning absentee ballots.

— Staff writers Tyler Estep and Arielle Kass contributed to this article.