Despite delays and the COVID-19 pandemic, Greene County voters are making their voices heard.
The Georgia Primary and Non-partisan Election wraps up June 9. Greene County is on track to outdo its voter turnout compared to the same election in 2016.
Some took advantage of in-person early voting the past two weeks, but most of the county’s votes came through mail-in absentee ballots. Many throughout the country doubt the security of absentee voting, thanks in large part President Donald Trump’s recent attacks against the method.
On May 20, the Lake Oconee News Facebook page shared an article quoting Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who urged Georgians to vote via absentee ballot with the coronavirus outbreak in effect. Comments under that post were largely against that recommendation, with one person saying they would “crawl into the voting precinct on broken glass” if necessary.
The Greene County Board of Elections and Registration (GCBOER) made the same recommendation. Even though there is controversy about the subject, GCBOER supervisor Kathleen Mayers said her office has not received any formal complaints about absentee voting.
In fact, mail-in votes have Greene County’s voter turnout trending higher than the primary election four years ago.
“[The 2016 primary] was considered very high-profile but we didn't have very high turnout,” Mayers said. “We, I think, voted about 3,800 total people by mail and in-person on election day in 2016. At this point (May 29), we've already done close to 3,100 people with one more week of early voting plus Election Day. So, we'll probably match or exceed what we did [in 2016].”
During the 2016 election, Greene voters submitted fewer than 200 absentee ballots. Mayers said that around 4,600 absentee ballots were sent out in Greene this year. She noted that around 2,800 had already been returned by the end of last week.
Conversely, the early voting location at 1180 C. Weldon Smith Drive in Greensboro only sees about 45 people per day, Mayers said.
The polling building installed safety measures in light of the coronavirus. Those voting in person this week during early voting or next Tuesday on Election Day will encounter a slightly altered procedure.
If a large crowd is present, the people will be lined up in the hallway at cones, which are separated 6 feet apart to follow social distancing guidelines. Poll workers wear gloves and masks while in the building. Voters are encouraged, but not required, to wear masks themselves.
Once inside the voting room, voters will receive a chip card and stylus, which is a pen-shaped utensil with a soft tip used for working touch screen devices. The cards must be inserted into the electronic voting device, which has been the case for years, and voters are asked to cast votes using the stylus instead of touching the screens with their hands. The styluses are cleaned between each use, Mayers said.
Not all voting stations are being used so that voters can remain spaced apart when casting their ballots. Voters will make selections on the electronic voting devices and, once their ballots are complete, they will press a button to print the ballot. The paper ballot will then be scanned for submission.
The updates to the voting process itself were implemented by the state earlier this year. The health measures, though, came into play once the coronavirus spread.
The local voters who voted in person during early voting had no complaints about the safety precautions, Mayers said. She said the normalization of social distancing and masks is a likely reason why.
“It is (different), but so is shopping at Ingles and Publix,” Mayers said. “You go to the stores and they have an announcement that they are asking customers to social distance. Most of the people at stores are wearing masks. So, because it's pretty much everywhere in society right now, it kind of helps and provides a level playing field for everybody as they're going out. We're all kind of adjusting to this process at present, which is meant to keep everybody safe as much as possible.”
Early voting runs through this Friday, June 5. There will be no voting next Monday. Election Day is next Tuesday, June 9.
Voters wishing to check which precinct they should visit on Election Day or view a sample ballot can do so at www.mvp.sos.ga.gov.
Because of the strong absentee voting numbers, Mayers is unsure whether there will be a large turnout Tuesday.
“With the amount of people who have already early voted, I don't know if we are going to have a higher turnout (June 9) like we would normally on Election Day,” Mayers said. “We're going to be over 5,000 votes, probably, by the end of this week and we only voted 3,800 four years ago. On Election Day, I'm not sure what kind of turnout we'll have. I'm sure we'll have people coming, but this year's a little bit harder to predict than normal because nothing's been normal this year.”