Wait in your car until your group is called. Stand on the painted circle so you don’t get too close to other voters in line. Wear a mask. Everything you touch will be sanitized.
Those are some of the new procedures Georgians were greeted with Monday as they participated in the first day of in-person early voting for the state’s June 9 primaries with the coronavirus pandemic still raging.
In metro Atlanta’s Cobb County, Election Director Janine Eveler said new procedures and guidelines have “slowed things down considerably, and people are having to wait.” She said that voters faced wait times of over an hour Monday morning.
Eveler said safety procedures implemented in Cobb include having people wait in their car until called up to the line in groups, maintaining 6-foot spacing in line and only allowing a small number of people into the voting room. In addition, an ongoing shortage of poll workers means the county is down to a single early voting location, when normally two are in operation for early voting’s first week.
“We’re still encouraging people to apply for an absentee ballot,” Eveler said. “Voting at the polls is going to mean social distancing and sanitizing, so the process is just going to take a lot longer.”
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said in an interview Monday from the Cobb County election site that it's been “a very orderly, safe process” so far.
“People are moving through the lines that we do have," Raffensperger said. "I think it’s as safe and as healthy of a process as it can be with the situation that we have with COVID-19.”
Raffensperger’s office has sent absentee ballot applications to all 6.9 million active registered voters in the state, and the Republican secretary is encouraging as many people as possible to skip the polls and vote absentee by mail.
Elections officials in Fulton 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.
Some voters endured long waits in Fulton County, as people lined up outside some polling sites before they opened on Monday.
“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.
Ryan Germany, an attorney for the secretary of state’s office, said Monday during a conference call meeting of the state election board that over 1.4 million absentee ballots have been requested so far statewide. Germany said of those, 1.25 million ballots have been delivered to homes and over 360,000 completed ballots have been sent back to election officials.
“This current election, the June 9 election, is shaping up to look very different than elections in Georgia usually look,” Germany said, noting that the number of absentee ballots cast are already “orders of magnitude” greater than had been cast in previous primaries.
Raffensperger last week estimated that half of Georgia voters will vote by mail this election, when typically around 5% to 7% do so.
The election board on Monday approved an emergency rule allowing election officials to begin processing, but not tabulating, absentee ballots before election day in order to help counties deal with the large influx.
Georgia has had 38,885 confirmed cases of the virus, according to data from the state Department of Public Health. At least 1,675 people have died with 7,076 hospitalizations, as of Tuesday evening. In Bartow County, there have been 410 confirmed cases, 132 hospitalizations and 35 total deaths.
The state 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 Associated Press contributed to this report.