Early voting is set to begin Monday, May 18, and it will look much different from previous years due to coronavirus-prompted changes.
Hart County Elections Coordinator Robin Webb told The Sun that early voting was moved to the AgriScience Center this year to accommodate enough polling units to keep lines at a minimum, while maintaining social distancing. Webb said there is enough space at the elections office to have all of the polling units, but not enough space to maintain social distancing if they were to use all of the units.
“If we did it here (elections office), we would be very limited on the number of voting units we could put out and it would cause long lines,” Webb said.
When early voting starts at 8 a.m. on May 18, Webb said there will be 16 operational polling units at the Hart County AgriScience Center, located at 1951 Bowman Highway in Hartwell. Early voting will be from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. during weekdays until June 5, with one Saturday voting day from 9 a.m to 4 p.m. on May 30.
“If we were to see an overwhelming response and see that lines are longer, we will extend some days, but we’ll advertise that if we do,” Webb said.
Precautions are being taken to maintain the safety of poll workers and voters alike. Poll workers will wear gloves and masks, Webb said, and sneeze-guards will be placed between voters and workers. Screens for voting will be sanitized frequently each day and a clean, sanitized stylist for voting will be provided to each voter.
“Voters are welcome to wear masks or gloves. We will have some if they want to use some. We’ll have hand sanitizer,” Webb said.
Voters can expect to be asked to have their temperature checked when going to vote, Webb said, but the elections office can not require voters to do so in order to cast a vote.
The number of absentee ballot applications Webb has already received is much higher than normal for a large election, she said. Normally, she would’ve mailed around 600 to 700 absentee ballots, but Webb said she’s already mailed more than 4,000 absentee ballots and has received back about 600 completed ballots.
Absentee ballot applications are still being accepted until June 5, but Webb encouraged voters to turn those applications in as soon as possible because the ballots are being mailed from an out-of-state vendor contracted by the state, instead of the local office. Absentee ballots will be accepted until 7 p.m. on June 9.
Inside the absentee ballots, instructions ask voters to place their ballot inside of a “privacy envelope” and seal it, but Webb said it is actually a privacy sleeve and there’s no way to seal the sleeve. She said that is acceptable and it still maintains the privacy of the voter because you cannot see the ballot through the outer envelope. Webb said this has caused some concern among voters who are worried their vote wouldn’t count, but she says the vote will be counted.
Webb also said voters shouldn’t be alarmed if another member of the same household receives a ballot before the other. She said this could be caused by ballots getting separated by the vendor distributing them. If anyone is concerned about not receiving their ballot, Webb said to call the elections office and they will verify that it has been processed and make sure the voter receives a ballot.
A drop-box for absentee ballots is located outside of the elections office at 182 Cade Street, Suite B, Hartwell, and voters can drop-off ballots anytime. Webb said the box is under video surveillance and is pad-locked for security.
“If anyone notices an error with their ballot or the ballot they receive, they need to contact us as soon as possible,” Webb said. “We’ll correct any errors that may have been made.”
Election day is scheduled for June 9 and Webb said all of the usual voting precincts for Hart County have indicated they will be open. The AgriScience Center is only being used for early voting, unless the county needs an emergency voting location.
“But as things change, they (precincts) may change,” Webb said. “At that point we do have some alternate locations, but hopefully we won’t need to use those.”