Early voting begins as Fulton County works to safeguard polling places from COVID-19
By Raisa Habersham
With three weeks until the presidential election, early voting is underway in Georgia. This process is expected to play a crucial role in the election, as many officials have urged residents to cast their ballots sooner to cut down on wait times and confusion at the polls.
In the past, Fulton County has had as many as 60 percent of residents cast ballots during the early voting period or before Election Day, said Jessica Corbitt, Fulton County external affairs director. Officials are hoping early voting turnout will be even greater this year.
“This year of course is different because vote by mail is so much greater than it has been in previous years,” Corbitt said.
So Fulton County is pulling out all the stops. On Monday, the county used its first mobile voting buses with 8 to 10 voting stations each. The buses will be in various parts of the district throughout the early voting period (location and times can be found here). Residents can also download the Fulton Votes app, which will show them information about early voting, voting by mail, requirements for Voter ID. The app also provides links to key platforms on the Secretary of State’s website. Officials say the app will be updated throughout the election cycle and beyond.
Additionally, a huge help with Fulton’s voting efforts has been the addition of State Farm Arena as a polling precinct, the largest in Georgia. During a media tour of the arena last week, Fulton election officials announced they will have 60 polling pads, 302 voting machines and three technical experts working with the Atlanta Hawks’ IT department and Comcast to ensure connectivity is “sterling and sparkling,” Hawks CEO Steve Koonin said. The arena will be fully staffed by Hawks staff.
The polling site made headlines this summer when it became the first sports facility to become a polling place, setting a trend across other NBA sports teams. The effort is also another example of how entities are working to make voting easier for residents.
“We think of this as a library on steroids,” Koonin said. “Our duty is to give you a great voting experience.” He is also hoping the size of the building will allow for a safe voting experience in the middle of a deadly pandemic.
Because of COVID-19 concerns, Fulton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Robb Pitts urged voters to submit absentee ballots or cast their ballots as soon as possible during the election season. Pitts has previously said he wants 80 percent of Fulton voters to vote by mail or during the early voting period to decrease the number of residents at the poll on Election Day.
“That’s ambitious but doable, particularly as a result of this effort,” Pitt said, adding he’s confident this election cycle will go much smoother than the June primaries.
Corbitt said the county’s 30 early voting locations typically have five to 10 poll workers. On Election Day, there will be 3,000 poll workers across the county’s 255 polling places with a technician at each precinct. Drop boxes are also available for residents to submit their absentee ballots.
“We think that as a result of the number of people we have, the fact that they have live experience on the machines, the fact that we will have a technician or technicians at every voting precinct, that we will be prepared for everything that we can control,” Pitts said.