Politics

Georgia’s Early Voting Period Marked By Concerns Over Coronavirus, Voter Privacy

Early in-person voting in Georgia  started on Monday and will last for three weeks. There are fewer voting polling locations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Early in-person voting in Georgia started on Monday and will last for three weeks. There are fewer voting polling locations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Credit Kelly P. Kissel / Associated Press
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Polling places around Georgia are being encouraged to offer hand sanitizer and wipe down touchscreens as early voting continues for the state’s presidential primary in the midst of a coronavirus outbreak.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said his office sent this guidance to all 159 counties last week.

“That gives, hopefully, voters additional comfort about the situation because it is changing and evolving as we gather more information during the day,” Raffensperger said.

He said all registered voters also have the option to request a mail-in ballot.

“If you’re uncomfortable being in public space, for whatever reason, here’s a great opportunity to go to My Voter Page, ask for an absentee ballot, we’ll mail it to you, you can fill it out and send it back,” he said.

Raffensperger said it usually takes three days for an absentee ballot to be mailed out from the time it’s requested.

Absentee ballots have to be received by the county by the time polls close on Election Day, March 24.

Meanwhile, Georgia’s Board of Elections is set to determine whether one county can use hand-marked paper ballots instead of new voting machines that the state spent millions on.

More than 120,000 people have cast ballots in Georgia since early voting started March 2 for the presidential primary. But in Athens-Clarke County, a portion of those voters have used hand-marked paper ballots.

That’s after the Board of Elections for the county decided last week to stop using Georgia’s new electronic touchscreens. The board says the 21-inch display screens where voters make their selections are too big to keep private.

That’s forced the state board to call an emergency hearing for Wednesday at 10 a.m. to determine whether the reasoning for the decision complies with state law.

“We understand that ballot security is important,” Raffensperger said. “Obviously, we understand the importance of secrecy. We also understand physical security, cybersecurity – it all works together. We’ll gather information [Wednesday], and then the board should be able to render a decision after they’ve heard both sides of the story.”

Officials are expected to hear testimony from the county, state and potentially from Dominion, the vendor of the voting system.

Correction: This story has been corrected to show that absentee ballots must be received by the county by Election Day. 

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