ATLANTA - Georgia’s March 24 presidential primaries have been postponed until May because of fears over the new coronavirus, state election officials announced Saturday.
In-person early voting, which began statewide March 2, will be halted and the election will be moved to May 19, when Georgia’s other 2020 primary elections are being held, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said in a statement. Early voting was originally scheduled to last through Friday, March 20.
In addition to public safety, one of the biggest considerations was the risk the virus posed to poll workers, who are often older, election officials said.
“Events are moving rapidly and my highest priority is protecting the health of our poll workers, and the community at large,” Raffensperger said.
For many people, the presidential primaries will provide the first chance to use Georgia's new voting machines. The $104 million system combines electronic voting with a printed out paper ballot. It's the first time in 18 years, votes will be recorded on new machines in the state.
TAYLORSVILLE, GA - MARCH 01: Voters head to the polls to cast their votes on Georgia's presidential primary. (Photo by Branden Camp/Getty Images)
The action followed Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s signature of an emergency declaration that unlocked sweeping powers to fight COVID-19. In a speech Saturday, the governor renewed a call for places of worship, schools and others to consider canceling large gatherings as cases in the state rise.
As of Saturday, the virus had infected more than 150,000 people worldwide and killed over 5,800. The death toll in the U.S. rose to 51 and infections totaled more than 2,100, as President Donald Trump expanded a ban on travel from Europe by adding Britain and Ireland to the list.
A transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2, also known as the 2019 novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the United States. Note the crown-like spikes on the outer edge of the virus, hence the term "coron (NIAID-RML)
Georgia is reporting 66 confirmed cases, with most concentrated around metro Atlanta. One death in the state has been attributed to the virus.
Cobb County Elections Director Janine Eveler said in an interview Saturday evening that her heavily populated metro Atlanta county had seen “a little over 100” poll workers quit in recent days because of fears over the virus. “Each day we had more and more poll workers wanting to bow out due to concern over their health,” Eveler said, adding that she believed the decision to postpone the election was the right one.
Raffensperger’s office said that the decision to postpone the election was made in consultation with the state Democratic and Republican Parties.
“Our priority is to protect the health and safety of all Georgians and to ensure that as many people as possible have an opportunity to vote,” state Sen. Nikema Williams, chair of the Democratic Party of Georgia said, according to the statement. “Continued in-person voting could compromise both goals.”
All votes already cast, including in-person and absentee ballots, will be counted, the statement says. As of Thursday, 224,000 voters had already cast ballots in the primary, according to Associated Press Elections Research.
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