Turnout was slow but steady at metro Atlanta polling places amid concerns about coronavirus, local cases of which have steadily climbed as testing has increased. As of lunchtime Saturday, Georgia had 66 confirmed cases of the the new virus.
Voters who did hit the polls took precautions but seemed otherwise undeterred, as election workers made efforts to keep surfaces clean and avoid direct contact.
“They had (hand sanitizer) everywhere,” said 56-year-old Gwinnett County voter Catherine Olson. “They’re all wearing rubber gloves. This one guy was wearing rubber gloves and he was even rubbing hand sanitizer on them.”
Through Friday, turnout for this year’s presidential primary has been significantly higher than during the 2016 election. It’s difficult to determine what effect health concerns may have on voters moving forward — especially now that the original March 24 election date has now been pushed back to May 19.
At least two of metro Atlanta’s advance voting locations — Morehouse College in Fulton County and the Briarwood Recreation Center in DeKalb — shuttered in recent days, the result of larger virus-related closures.
In Cobb County, elections director Janine Eveler said Saturday’s turnout was steady but there had been no lines except right when polling sites opened.
Gwinnett County elections director Kristi Royston said turnout seemed “slower today than our normal final Saturday.”
Some counties have also lost poll workers who have decided they can’t risk catching coronavirus. The average age of poll workers is 70 and older people are more susceptible to the virus. In Gwinnett, for example, Royston said close to 30 poll workers had backed out.
As the only weekend voting day required in communities across Georgia, Saturday marked perhaps the largest showcase yet of the state’s new voting system.
The $104 million equipment, distributed across the state, brings paper ballots to the voting process. Voters pick their candidates on touchscreens that are attached to printers that create ballots. Then voters review their ballots and deposit them into scanning machines.
As of press time, no major issues with the machines had been reported.
Spencer Wilkinson was among the small stream of voters who stopped by the advance voting location at South DeKalb Mall shortly after it opened. She said the new process was “nice and easy.”
Louis James said the same — and that he felt comfortable voting amid ongoing coronavirus concerns. Poll workers at the South DeKalb site were offering latex gloves to voters.
“I wiped my hands on the way coming in,” James said. “And I have a wipe in my bag, and I’m going to wipe on the way going out.”
Over 279,000 people cast ballots through Friday during the first two weeks of early voting this year, according to data from the secretary of state’s office. About 218,000 of them have voted in person; the rest voted by mailing in absentee ballots.
Less than half as many people, about 92,000, had voted in person at the same point in the 2016 presidential primary.
Nearly 19,000 people voted during the Saturday voting day during the 2016 presidential primary. Turnout then surged in the final week of early voting, with almost 103,000 people voting on the last Friday before the March 1, 2016, election day.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has said total turnout in this year’s presidential primary could exceed 2 million voters, as it did four years ago. More than 5 million voters are expected in the November general election.
Stewart Greenberg, 75, cast his ballot Saturday at an early voting site in Johns Creek. He said he liked the new voting machines and had “no concerns about coronavirus at all.”
“Before I picked up the pen to fill out the form I used the hand sanitizer,” Greenberg said.
Local elections officials have urge anyone with health concerns to submit votes by mail. Absentee ballots can still be requested and will be accepted if received by local elections offices by 7 p.m. on Election Day.
—Staff writer Sarah Kallis contributed to this article.
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