By Beau Evans
Capitol Beat News Service
And Progress staff reports
Concern for the safety of voters and poll workers due to the spread of coronavirus was behind the decision to postpone Georgia’s presidential primary from March 24 until May 19, state elections officials said Monday.
Statewide, around 250,000 ballots had already been cast during the early voting period for the partisan contest before the precincts were closed Saturday amid the COVID-19 scare, according to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office.
In Pickens County, 885 people had already cast ballots when Election Office Supervisor Julianne Roberts said the state
notified them to postpone all further voting following the close of Saturday voting. A steady stream of people continued coming by the Pioneer Road office Monday, only to find the mandated locked front door with a note explaining the situation. Roberts said there hadn’t been many calls but she could see a few people left unhappy after seeing the note.
Election officials were facing their first major statewide test of Georgia’s 30,000 new ballot-marking voting machines, which have been rolled out since summer to replace the state’s old touchscreen devices.
Roberts said locally the machines had worked well in their abbreviated first use.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, speaking Monday, said his office decided to push the presidential primary back to May 19, when primary contests for dozens of seats in Congress and the General Assembly will be held along with many local races. Pickens will see hotly contested commission chairman, sheriff, tax commissioner and two school board posts on the GOP ballot at that time.
“We did not make this decision lightly,” Raffensperger said. “We made the decision in the interest of public health, safety and security.”
The average age for poll workers in Georgia is 70, leaving them more at risk for harmful effects from the respiratory virus than younger age groups.
Roberts said all the early voted are recorded and will be counted. She said there are still a few things in the works, but voters can be sure that it will be worked out before early voting for the primary opens on April 27th.
“We have never dealt with this before,” said Roberts of the postponed vote.