Fulton County rolls out mobile polling place

Fulton County Commission Chairman Rob Pitts and Registration and Elections Director Richard Barron cut the ribbon on the county's new mobile voting vehicle, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020 in Atlanta. Early voting begins Oct. 12 in the vehicle and at 30 fixed locations.

Fulton County’s plan for the Nov. 3 general election includes 30 early voting precincts plus other outreach or mobile locations, but it’s still lacking in one area.

The county won’t have a polling location in the cities of Chattahoochee Hills or Palmetto during the entire 19 days of early voting, which runs Oct. 12 through 30. Instead, it will only have one of its two new mobile voting units, or buses, set up outside the Palmetto Library for two to three days. That’s a major concern for Palmetto Mayor Clark Boddie.

“In six months we have not seen a MARTA bus,” he said, referring to the transit authority’s decision to temporarily cut some bus routes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “It makes it very difficult for our citizens to not have a (venue) available to go to for those 19 days. If the (voting) bus is here for two days, they’ve missed it. … It’s hard to understand for any city in Fulton County to not have a permanent location where people could walk in and vote during early voting.”

Boddie was one of several city and county officials to speak at the Fulton Board of Commissioners’ Oct. 2 special called meeting with the cities’ mayors, which was held virtually due to the outbreak.

College Park Mayor Bianca Motley Broom said she’s “thrilled” with how the county worked with that city to secure the Georgia International Convention Center as a “mega voting site” but criticized Fulton’s plan for the two nearby south Fulton cities.

“A big ol’ site in College Park does not make up for a lack of a permanent site in Palmetto and Chatt Hills,” she said. “As mayors, we have to stand together. If there’s a problem in one city, there’s a problem for all.”

East Point Mayor Deana Holiday Ingraham added, “With 30 early voting sites, I assumed there would be at least one (permanent) location in each city for all 19 days. … But if every city does not have a location for all 19 days, that would be travesty. That would be viewed as a form of voter suppression.”

Rick Barron, the county’s director of registration and elections, said Fulton will try to add the Palmetto Library, which is about a mile from the Chattahoochee Hills border, as a permanent site for early voting.

Ingraham said she also was concerned about the county’s new Fulton County Votes app, which provides information on elections, including one’s polling precinct. She said the app listed her voting location as her old one, even though it recently changed.

Barron said the glitch could have been attributed to the Sept. 29 District 5 U.S. House of Representatives special election to replace the late John Lewis, but Ingraham said she lives in District 13, which had no special election, so it should have had no impact on her.

In his presentation on the Nov. 3 election, Barron said the county’s two mobile voting units will have 10 voting machines in each one. During early voting they will spend six days outside polling precincts in each commission district before being stationed at the highest-demand voting locations on the final days.

Fulton made national news for problems it encountered at the June 9 primary election, where some residents waited in line up to five hours to vote.

The county will have 255 Election Day polling places for the general election, up from 164 for the primary and 175 for the Aug. 11 primary runoff election. Nearly all of the Nov. 3 polling locations will have 5,000 or less voters assigned to keep lines shorter.

Barron said Fulton’s goal is to have 80% of voters to cast ballots prior to Election Day through absentee ballots and early voting.

“We had 64% of voters vote before Election Day in the presidential election in 2016,” he said. “With the way the landscape has changed with regard to absentee (ballots) by mail (due to the pandemic), we expect to have at least 300,000 people vote during early voting and receive at least 150,000 ballots back by mail for the election. That would mean we’ll probably be in the neighborhood of 150,000 to 180,000 people voting on Election Day.”

He also said voters will be mailed flyers and cards to inform them about any changes to their polling precincts, since 91 have changed for the general election, and any other election issues.

Barron said with the state getting voters’ requests for absentee ballots and sending out the ballots to voters, Fulton has received more than 200,000 applications and has processed nearly 195,000.

“If you requested an absentee ballot by mail, you should be seeing it soon if you haven’t received it already,” he said, adding you can request one by visiting ballotrequest.sos.ga.gov.

Barron added the county has 37 absentee ballot drop boxes in place, and they’re emptied each day and monitored by video cameras. Once you mail or drop off your ballot, you can track it by visiting georgia.ballottrax.net/voter.

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