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How prepared is Fulton County for Election Day?

Georgia received a top credit rating to make purchases including new voting equipment File/Credit: Jessica McGowan, Getty Images, via fortune.com

By Raisa Habersham

The county has weathered its fair share of long lines, technical issues and COVID-19, but Election Day is its ultimate test.

It’s finally here: Election Day in a truly unprecedented year.  And as residents prepare to cast ballots, Fulton County detailed its plans for a smoother voting process than what was seen during the June primaries.

“I can tell you, quite frankly, quite directly, that my perspective, in spite of the challenges that we faced and others face back into, we are totally prepared for what awaits us [Tuesday], beginning at 7 a.m.,” Fulton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Robb Pitts told reporters Monday during a press briefing.

The county has already seen record turnout with more than 57 percent of residents casting ballots during the early voting period. Fulton elections director Richard Barron expects between 140,000 and 170,000 residents will vote today, which could bring the total amount to 80 percent turnout – higher than that of 2016 by about 6 percent, Barron said.

Prior to early voting, the county hoped 80 percent of residents would early vote or submit absentee ballots. The county, which has 700,000 registered voters, processed more than 247,000 early voting ballots, according to an unofficial count. Of the 250,227 mail-in ballot applications processed, the county has received 112,130 of them.

To cut down on long lines on Election Day, the county added 91 polling precincts to keep the number of residents assigned to a polling place under 5,000 (though a few precincts have more than that assigned to them). Polling pads have also been relocated to precincts where there could be more voters.

But Election Day also presents challenges, including COVID-19 protocol for voters who may be ill and concerns of voter intimidation.

The county has discussed COVID-19 plans internally, but Barron said Monday they were waiting on the official plans from the state.  “It’s challenging to try to get the word out to poll workers at the last minute to try to implement a procedure in which we have not prepared,” Barron said.

This also comes a week after several staff members at Fulton’s elections warehouse tested positive for COVID-19. Barron said two are still in the ICU and that many of them returned to work toward the end of last week. 

As for voter intimidation concerns, Barron said there will be police officers at every precinct. “We are doing it at every location because, yes, we do have some concerns,” Barron said. “And we’re trying to be proactive and anticipate anything could happen. It’s going to probably be comforting to the public to know that there is a peace officer at all these sites.”

Voter intimidation and COVID-19 concerns aside, the one question on voters’ minds is when will ballots be counted. Barron said he is hoping to have the early voting results online by 8:30 p.m. depending on the number of people in line at the polls at 7 p.m.

“That will determine when the results start coming in for election day. Anyone that’s in line at 7 p.m. is entitled to vote,” Barron said. “And once everybody is through the line, we’ve processed them, the poll workers get their sites shut down. That is when we’ll start we’ll start seeing results come in for election day. I hope to have most of the results done by 11 p.m.. But we are a big county; we’ve got 255 polling locations.”

Fulton County residents can check their polling places at Georgia’s My Voter Page site. They can also check wait times online or download the Fulton Votes app. For those that haven’t mailed in their ballot, the county has 38 drop box locations. Ballots must be in them by 7 p.m.

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