ATLANTA (AP) — 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.
During the last day of early voting, some polls in Atlanta’s Fulton County were forced to stay open past midnight Friday to accommodate people waiting for hours through intermittent downpours of rain.
“It’s going to be a different election day than we’ve ever seen. We are still in the grips, albeit a loosening one, of COVID-19,” Raffensperger said during a news conference. “Fewer people will be able to be in the room voting than we used to see, due to social distancing. Time between use of the machines will be longer because of disinfecting protocols.”
More than 1.2 million Georgians have already voted early, Raffensperger said. 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, in part hoping to ease pressure on in-person poll operations.
Since the start of the pandemic, counties across Georgia have faced poll-worker 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 set of 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. The county said in a statement on Sunday that it will conduct a review.
Raffensperger said the large increase in paper ballots coming in by mail could also slow the tabulating process.
“To get a good concept of where we are with the election — who won, who lost, or who’s in the runoff, things like that — I would think that could take upward of a couple days in some of these really tightly contested elections,” Raffensperger said.
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 reelection in November. Top Democrats vying for the nomination to take on Perdue include former congressional candidate Jon Ossoff, former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and former candidate for lieutenant governor Sarah Riggs Amico.