Pandemic Forces Georgia Counties To Get Creative With Polling Places

A former Sears building at Stonecrest Mall in DeKalb County will serve as a polling site for the Nov. 3 election.

Emil Moffatt / WABE

When Georgia voters head to the polls Tuesday, many will still head to a school building to cast their ballot. Others may be voting at a private facility such as a church or a business.

The places we vote have been changing in recent years, according to Atlanta elections lawyer Bryan Tyson.

“Finding facilities has gotten more challenging,” said Tyson. “It’s been great work by county officials to do their best in a time where a lot of people don’t want hundreds of unknown individuals coming into their facility on Election Day.”

Tyson says the use of schools as polling places was beginning to fall out of favor even before COVID-19.

“Concerns about school security and having lots of people who would not otherwise be at a school on a particular day, has led to a lot of school districts saying we’d rather not have public schools used as voting facilities,” said Tyson.

And now, with extra space being an important factor, places like Ponce City Market, The Fox Theater and even an old Sears Building at Stonecrest Mall are among the private buildings being used as Election Day polling sites.

Tyson says it’s up to each county to work out the details ahead of time to make sure the facilities will serve voters’ needs.

“They would obviously look at how much parking is there, what is the room size, can we successfully set up the equipment in this facility,” said Tyson.

Many counties across Georgia are using grant funding to pay for a post-election scrubbing of the buildings, to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

More than 90 polling places have changed in Fulton County for Tuesday’s election, some because of the pandemic. Voters in Fulton and across Georgia who plan to vote on Election Day are being encouraged to check the My Voter Page to make sure they know which polling site they are assigned to.

State Farm Arena Becomes Model

The most prominent example of a private facility being used as a polling site was State Farm Arena, where 40,000 voters cast ballots during three weeks of early voting that ended Oct. 30.

While it will not serve as an Election Day polling place, the sheer volume of voters who used the facility will help lighten the stress on precincts on Tuesday.

“I could not have dreamed that this relationship between Fulton County and the Hawks would have the impact that it’s had,” said Fulton County chairman Robb Pitts. “Not only statewide, but nationally and even internationally where other jurisdictions are trying to duplicate, replicate what we’ve been able to accomplish here.”