Georgia voting locations try to prevent spread of coronavirus

Yolanda Norman of DeKalb County uses te new voting machines at Voter Registration and Elections Office in Atlanta on Monday, March 2, 2020.
Yolanda Norman of DeKalb County uses te new voting machines at Voter Registration and Elections Office in Atlanta on Monday, March 2, 2020.

Before you vote, many Georgia election officials will offer hand sanitizer in an effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Voting locations will also provide sanitizer after voting, and they'll periodically scrub touchscreen voting computers with disinfectant wipes.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said Tuesday he sent guidance to county election officials advising them to keep voting locations clean.

03/02/2020 — Sandy Springs, Georgia — Hand sanitizer is available for early voters at the Sandy Springs library early voting poll location in Sandy Springs, Monday, March 2, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
03/02/2020 — Sandy Springs, Georgia — Hand sanitizer is available for early voters at the Sandy Springs library early voting poll location in Sandy Springs, Monday, March 2, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

“We want to have a clean, sanitized environment when you’re at a polling location,” Raffensperger said. “Everyone needs to be as cognizant and safety-conscious as possible.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that election officials encourage mail-in voting and early voting. The CDC also suggested that poll workers disinfect voting equipment.

Any Georgia voter concerned about in-person voting can vote by mail. Georgia offers absentee voting to all registered voters who return a form to their county election offices.

In addition, Raffensperger suggested that people vote at early voting locations in advance of the March 24 presidential primary.

“We’re wiping down screens, we have hand sanitizer out, we're wiping down tables, we’re doing everything. I don’t want anyone getting sick,” said Appling County Election Supervisor Shonda Carter.

Ella Stewart, a Georgia Tech student, said she was mindful of coronavirus when she voted early on Monday, but she didn't notice election workers cleaning off screens.

“It definitely crept into my mind. Are we dealing with this?” Stewart said.

Janine Eveler, Cobb County's elections director, said election officials have been cleaning door handles and other items as part of their regular maintenance.

However, it's been a struggle to find sanitizing wipes containing isopropyl alcohol it can use with the state's touchscreens. Bleach and commercial cleaners shouldn't be used on voting equipment.

"We are finding that it's all sold out," Eveler said, adding that places are also sold out of bottles of alcohol. "We are trying to find that at the moment."

Cobb County is also sending disposable rubber and vinyl gloves for poll workers to use.

In Tift County, election officials are supplying precincts with boxes filled with hand sanitizer, and poll workers are being told how to clean touchscreens, said the county's election supervisor, Leila Dollison.

Eveler said about 6,000 voters have cast ballots in person so far, and no one has raised concerns about the safety of using voting machines.

Turnout statewide has been light since in-person early voting began March 2, with about 129,000 people statewide casting ballots so far on Georgia's new touchscreen-and-paper ballot voting system.

Nearly 24,000 people have returned absentee ballots by mail.

Overall turnout could reach 2 million, with most people likely to cast their ballots on election day.

“If you’re concerned about voting in any public space, an absentee ballot is a great solution,” Raffensperger said. “Early voting gives you another advantage. It just means there won’t be as many people there.”

Raffensperger also said counties should be prepared with enough poll workers in case some call in sick.

— Staff writers Kristal Dixon and Sarah Kallis contributed to this article.