Local elections officials are acquiring personal protective equipment and taking other steps to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus when voters — and poll workers — return to the polls for early voting May 18.
Cobb County Elections and Voter Registration estimates that 165 poll workers will be at election precincts for early voting, and originally planned to hire 1,455 workers for Election Day. So far, 1,160 have signed up, said Janine Eveler, director of the county voting office.
In order to follow social distancing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there may be fewer voting machines and limits on how many voters can be in the polling precinct at a time, which may result in wait times, she said.
“We will be following CDC guidelines to provide 6 foot social distancing and will provide workers with (personal protective equipment) such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, wipes, and disinfectants,” Eveler said in an email to the MDJ.
To help protect poll workers, the director invited people to make and donate masks.
“We are making (personal protective equipment) purchases now and will do everything we can to make sure there are enough for poll workers. We are accepting handmade cloth masks from anyone who can sew. We have a bin outside the Main Elections Office daily from 12-1 p.m. Voters are strongly encouraged to bring and wear their own mask,” she said.
Many of the poll workers on Election Day are older adults who have been under the state’s shelter-in-place order, though they will be permitted to work the polls under the category of critical infrastructure as defined by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
“Each poll worker of any age will have to make the personal decision regarding whether they feel they can work or not,” Eveler said. “We hope our efforts to provide (personal protective equipment) and procedures that keep social distances will help them decide to continue working this election.”
Eveler did not have an estimate for how many people will be voting absentee rather than in person, but encouraged anyone who can to do so.
“We are encouraging everyone to vote by absentee ballot and avoid in-person voting this time around,” she said.
Those who have an absentee ballot can mail it in or hand-deliver it to the elections office. There will be absentee ballot drop boxes outside the main elections office, the East Cobb Government Service Center, the South Cobb Government Service Center and the North Cobb Regional Library.
Voters who requested an absentee ballot but decide to vote in person are to bring the absentee ballot with them to surrender to the poll manager or complete an affidavit to cancel the absentee ballot.
Cobb political party leaders also encouraged voters to vote absentee.
Cobb County Republican Party Chairman Jason Shepherd said he hopes people will use the absentee ballots, and that those who do show up to the polls take precautions.
“The hope is everyone is going to utilize the absentee ballot requests that were sent out by both the state and the county,” Shepherd said.”My hope is that just like some of the social distancing guidelines, where the governor and the president have recommended people do certain things and act certain ways, but haven’t mandated it, that people will use common sense, and they’ll take advantage of early voting if they vote in person when lines are a little bit shorter and it’s easier to social distance, wear masks, wash hands, use hand sanitizer and all that.”
Shepherd said though there are advantages to both in-person and absentee voting, a lot of Republicans are planning to be at the polls on Election Day.
“There’s pluses and minuses to both,” he said. “But there’s also something about going to the polls on Election Day. As an American, it’s something we do together on this specific day. We elect, in this case it would be our nominees, but we do that election together.”
Cobb County Democratic Committee Chairwoman Jacquelyn Bettadapur said she isn’t sure how safe it will be to cast a ballot in-person.
“I don’t know how much they’ll be wiping down the equipment. I would imagine social distancing protocols will be in place, like spacing out the voting booths. But will people be wearing masks? I don’t know; it’s hard to say,” she said, adding that increased absentee ballots may mean fewer people at the polls.
Bettadapur said she will vote absentee and she’s been encouraging voters to mail in their ballots or use the county’s drop boxes, though she would like to see the boxes at more early voting in-person polling precincts. She suggested that the county use some of the $130 million it recently received from the federal government for more drop boxes to increase contact-free voting.
“It sort of defies logic to me, why they couldn’t have a drop box at an in-person early vote location so that I would not have to stand in line, that I could just walk in and drop that off,” she said.