COVID-19 Cases Leave Georgia County Shorthanded as Election Day Approaches

[Flickr image via davidwilliamreed]

McDuffie County, GA’s election office is suddenly shorthanded with Election Day approaching as two full-time staff and some temporary workers have contracted COVID-19. The Journal-Constitution has more:

Coronavirus infections in an east Georgia county’s elections office are endangering its ability to run the primary.

Two McDuffie County elections employees tested positive for the coronavirus Tuesday, and six temporary employees were also sent home, said Elections Director Phyllis Wheeler. Their departures leave just two staff members and 13 poll workers left as early voting is underway.

“We’re very short-handed,” Wheeler said Wednesday. “We’re going to try. We’re not completely down. It might take a little longer, but we’ll get it done.”Wheeler and her assistant elections supervisor are awaiting results of their coronavirus tests, but they’re not showing symptoms. If they have the illness, Wheeler said she doesn’t know what she would do.

While there are enough poll workers at early voting sites, the county lacks staff needed to manage the election.“It’s kind of wait-and-see right now,” Wheeler said. “Right now, I don’t think anybody has a clue.”

The two employees who have the coronavirus, an absentee ballot clerk and front office clerk, are doing fine and resting at home, Wheeler said.

Like many Georgia counties, McDuffie has seen a few in-person voters but the overwhelming majority of ballots have been returned by mail – and neighboring counties are offering to step and assist with processing:

McDuffie County, located about 30 miles west of Augusta, has more than 15,000 registered voters and two early voting locations that opened Monday. Just 64 people voted in person during the first two days of early voting, and 3,364 absentee ballots have been returned.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said neighboring county election officials have offered assistance to McDuffie County.“As we continue to vote in a pandemic, we encourage people of all ages to vote by absentee ballot and keep lines light at the polls for those with disabilities and special needs,” Raffensperger said.

Poll workers across Georgia are equipped with face masks and gloves. Voting sites have hand sanitizer, and election workers are frequently wiping down voting computers.

Statewide, nearly 32,000 people have voted in person so far. Another 439,000 had returned absentee ballots to county election offices through Tuesday, according to state elections data.

McDuffie’s experience is just the latest worry for local offices working to conduct an election in the face of the pandemic; while many have found a way to cope with fewer pollworkers, most are staffed very lean and can’t afford too many missing colleagues – especially not with the increased workload of a heavy vote-by-mail election. Best wishes to those staff and workers in McDuffie for a quick and complete recovery, and here’s hoping the county and its neighbors can band together to pull off the upcoming primary. Be well and stay tuned …

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