Gov. Brian Kemp says he plans to announce new guidance soon about Georgia businesses closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In an interview with WSB-TV, Kemp said that state officials are aiming to make public new guidelines regarding businesses “over the next several days.”
“They’re wanting to open back those businesses, and people want to go participate in those activities, and I get that. We just got to make sure we do it in a way that’s safe for Georgians,” Kemp said.
As of Wednesday evening, Georgia has had 39,801 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, according to data from the state Department of Public Health. There have been 7,171 hospitalizations and 1,697 people have died. In Bartow County, there have been 419 cases, 132 hospitalizations and 35 deaths.
Absentee voting urged amid long waits for June 9 primary early voting
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is urging voters to cast ballots by mail rather than in person for the June 9 primary election as the start of early voting this week drew long lines and wait times at many precincts.
Polls opened Monday across the state for the three-week early voting period ahead of the primary election, which was delayed from March 24 and May 18 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Precincts have already seen long lines despite relatively small turnout with voters forced to keep their distance from each other and spend time canceling absentee ballots they requested since they are voting in person.
The small sample size of early voters has state and county election officials gearing up for potential precinct challenges that may lie ahead in the upcoming June 9 primary, even as Georgia is poised for historic levels of mail-in voting.
Raffensperger and several county election officials asked voters Wednesday to consider taking the absentee-ballot route, either by sending their ballot in the mail or putting it in temporary drop-off boxes that counties have set up.
Doing so would help relieve Election-Day pressure for volunteer poll workers, many of whom are older adults more vulnerable to health risks from coronavirus, officials said. It would also cut down the amount of time voters spend waiting next to each other in line.
“Considering the health risks posed by COVID-19, Georgians should seriously consider submitting an absentee ballot by mail for the June 9 elections,” Raffensperger said in a statement Wednesday.
“While we understand the Georgia tradition of in-person voting and look forward to returning to normal in-person voting in future elections, the extra precautions necessary to preserve voter and poll worker health during the pandemic will result in long wait times and an increased health risk that could be avoided through absentee ballots for this election," Raffensperger added.
Nearly 1.5 million Georgians to date have requested absentee ballots for the primary, a figure much larger than the roughly 223,000 mail-in ballots cast in the high-turnout 2018 gubernatorial election. Of those, county election officials have already collected about 400,000 completed absentee ballots.
Raffensperger’s office also announced Wednesday the state has purchased 35,000 reusable face masks and 30,000 bottles of hand sanitizer that will be sent to county election offices.
The push by Raffensperger for more voters to choose mail-in ballots comes despite President Donald Trump bashing the method Wednesday, calling it ripe for voter fraud. The president threatened to withhold federal funds for Michigan after that state — like Georgia — began sending absentee-ballot request forms to all its registered voters.
Raffensperger announced in mid-March that his office would send absentee ballot request forms to Georgia’s roughly 6.9 million voters. He has also created an advisory group for mail-in voter fraud, though critics have blasted that move as voter intimidation and unnecessary due to the lack of evidence of widespread absentee voter fraud in the state.
— The Associated Press and Capitol Beat News contributed to this report.