Elections officials in Georgia’s most populous county agreed Tuesday to open polls earlier and expand voting sites, but not before the elections chief received input on risks to poll workers and voters from the coronavirus.
People lined up outside some polling sites in Fulton County before they opened on Monday — the first day of early voting for the June 9 primaries —, the county’s elections director, Rick Barron, said. Some voters endured long waits. The county includes most of Atlanta.
“There is a lot of political pressure that we are receiving, and I understand that we don’t want lines,” Barron said at an emergency meeting of the county’s Board of Registration & Elections Tuesday. “But at the same time, I’m concerned with the welfare of our poll workers and the voters that show up.”
Barron cited a report about coronavirus infections in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that could be connected to in-person voting there on April 7.
After a lengthy discussion, Fulton County elections officials decided they could safely open polling sites two hours earlier, at 7 a.m., starting on Wednesday. Several polling sites will also expand to accommodate more voters.
Georgia has twice postponed primaries because of the pandemic. Georgia’s March 24 presidential primaries were first moved to May 19, when voters were set to choose party nominees for other 2020 races including a U.S. Senate contest. As infections and deaths mounted, election day was bumped back again to June 9.
The state has sent absentee ballot applications to all 6.9 million active registered voters in the state, and officials are encouraging as many people as possible to skip the polls and vote absentee by mail.
Georgia has had over 38,000 confirmed cases of the virus, according to data from the state Department of Public Health. At least 1,664 people have died.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the highly contagious virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.