Officials prep for long lines, slow results in primaries
Virus complicates voting in Georgia, S.C. and Nevada
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.
Gwinnett County, Ga., elections office employees Joyce Davis (left) and Jimmie Coleman use wipes to sanitize clipboards being used by early voters.