Of­fi­cials prep for long lines, slow re­sults in pri­maries

Virus com­pli­cates vot­ing in Ge­or­gia, S.C. and Ne­vada

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - NATION & WORLD -

AT­LANTA — Elec­tions of­fi­cials in Ge­or­gia are pre­par­ing for long lines and slow re­sults in Tuesday’s pri­maries as poll clo­sures and coro­n­avirus re­stric­tions com­pli­cate in-per­son vot­ing and coun­ties grap­ple with pro­cess­ing a huge in­crease in pa­per bal­lots re­ceived by mail.

Ge­or­gia Sec­re­tary of State Brad Raf­fensperger said Mon­day that vot­ers should ex­pect to face lines. He also said his of­fice won’t be­gin to re­lease par­tial re­sults un­til “the last precinct has closed.” And he pre­dicted that the win­ners may not be known for days there­after.

“Fewer peo­ple will be able to be in the room vot­ing than we used to see, due to so­cial dis­tanc­ing,” he said. “Time be­tween use of the ma­chines will be longer be­cause of dis­in­fect­ing pro­to­cols.”

More than 1.2 mil­lion Ge­or­gians have al­ready voted early. A ma­jor­ity of those bal­lots were cast ab­sen­tee by mail af­ter the Repub­li­can elec­tions chief sent ab­sen­tee bal­lot ap­pli­ca­tions to 6.9 mil­lion ac­tive reg­is­tered vot­ers.

Since the start of the pan­demic, coun­ties across Ge­or­gia have faced poll­worker short­ages and many have had to close or con­sol­i­date polling lo­ca­tions. But the push to get peo­ple to vote by mail has come with its own chal­lenges.

Elec­tion of­fi­cials in Ful­ton County have said that a tech­nol­ogy glitch froze county email ac­counts af­ter a flood of ab­sen­tee bal­lot ap­pli­ca­tions came in, leading to a back­log of thou­sands of ap­pli­ca­tions that sat un­pro­cessed for weeks. The county says it cleared the back­log, but the state elec­tion board started an in­ves­ti­ga­tion af­ter some Ful­ton County vot­ers never re­ceived bal­lots.

One of the most closely watched races be­ing de­cided is the Demo­cratic pri­mary for the U.S. Se­nate seat held by Repub­li­can David Per­due, who is seek­ing re-elec­tion in Novem­ber.

In South Carolina, about 250 polling places had to be moved for Tuesday’s pri­maries be­cause build­ings were still closed or did not want to host large groups of peo­ple be­cause of the pan­demic, said state Elec­tion Com­mis­sion spokesman Chris Whit­mire.

About 150 mem­bers of the South Carolina State Guard will help out in some polling places to make up for the ab­sence of poll work­ers, many of whom are stay­ing home be­cause they are older or oth­er­wise vul­ner­a­ble to de­vel­op­ing com­pli­ca­tions from the virus, of­fi­cials said.

Re­duced polling staff could slow the vot­ing process, along with ex­tra steps that are be­ing taken to san­i­tize bal­lot­ing lo­ca­tions. Work­ers will be pro­vided with pro­tec­tive masks and face shields and vot­ers will likely be given cot­ton swabs to press but­tons on vot­ing ma­chines that also will be san­i­tized.

COVID-19 could also mean a longer elec­tion night. Re­turns may be slower to come in than usual be­cause of a surge in mailed-in ab­sen­tee bal­lots. The Gen­eral Assem­bly de­cided last month to al­low any voter to cast an ab­sen­tee bal­lot by mail be­cause of the pan­demic.

State elec­tion of­fi­cials mailed out about 167,000 ab­sen­tee bal­lots and had 121,000 of them re­turned as of last week.

Vot­ers on Tuesday will be choos­ing can­di­dates in Repub­li­can pri­maries for U.S. Se­nate and the

1st and 2nd Con­gres­sional Dis­tricts, and Demo­cratic pri­maries in the 3rd, 5th and 7th Con­gres­sional Dis­tricts.

Also up for elec­tion this year are all 170 Gen­eral Assem­bly seats.

Ne­vada is at­tempt­ing a high-wire act of hold­ing its first-ever elec­tion al­most en­tirely by mail while ac­com­mo­dat­ing a new law al­low­ing vot­ers to reg­is­ter at the polls and try­ing to keep peo­ple safe amid the pan­demic.

Ne­vada shifted its Tuesday pri­mary elec­tion away from in-per­son vot­ing, where long lines and shared sur­faces present risks of spread­ing the coro­n­avirus. Sec­re­tary of State Bar­bara Ce­gavske lim­ited the num­ber of polling places and in­stead sent ab­sen­tee bal­lots to vot­ers that can be mailed back or dropped off — a break from the prac­tice of most Ne­vada vot­ers who pre­fer to show up in per­son at the polls, typ­i­cally dur­ing two weeks of early vot­ing.

The top-ticket races in­clude Ne­vada’s four

U.S. House seats, where the in­cum­bents — three Democrats and one Repub­li­can— are all ex­pected to sail through the pri­mary chal­lenges.

AT­LANTA JOUR­NAL-CON­STI­TU­TION

Gwin­nett County, Ga., elec­tions of­fice em­ploy­ees Joyce Davis (left) and Jim­mie Cole­man use wipes to san­i­tize clip­boards be­ing used by early vot­ers.

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