Election worker Lamar Wood cleans & disinfects voting cards and sytlus between voters on the first day of early voting at the Cobb County Board of Elections & Registration on Monday, May 18, 2020, in Marietta. Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com

Georgia county down to 2 elections staff after coronavirus infections

Coronavirus infections in an east Georgia county’s elections office are endangering its ability to run the primary.

Two McDuffie County elections employees tested positive for the coronavirus Tuesday, and six temporary employees were also sent home, said Elections Director Phyllis Wheeler. Their departures leave just two staff members and 13 poll workers left as early voting is underway.

“We’re very short-handed,” Wheeler said Wednesday. “We’re going to try. We’re not completely down. It might take a little longer, but we’ll get it done.”

Wheeler and her assistant elections supervisor are awaiting results of their coronavirus tests, but they’re not showing symptoms. If they have the illness, Wheeler said she doesn’t know what she would do.

While there are enough poll workers at early voting sites, the county lacks staff needed to manage the election.

“It’s kind of wait-and-see right now,” Wheeler said. “Right now, I don’t think anybody has a clue.”

The two employees who have the coronavirus, an absentee ballot clerk and front office clerk, are doing fine and resting at home, Wheeler said.

McDuffie County, located about 30 miles west of Augusta, has more than 15,000 registered voters and two early voting locations that opened Monday. Just 64 people voted in person during the first two days of early voting, and 3,364 absentee ballots have been returned.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said neighboring county election officials have offered assistance to McDuffie County.

“As we continue to vote in a pandemic, we encourage people of all ages to vote by absentee ballot and keep lines light at the polls for those with disabilities and special needs,” Raffensperger said.

Poll workers across Georgia are equipped with face masks and gloves. Voting sites have hand sanitizer, and election workers are frequently wiping down voting computers.

Statewide, nearly 32,000 people have voted in person so far. Another 439,000 had returned absentee ballots to county election offices through Tuesday, according to state elections data.

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