Thousands of voters across Georgia are taking part in the first days of early voting this week for the primary election, but many more — especially in Northwest Georgia — mailed in their ballots to avoid lines and potential crowds amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In total, 400,000 people have submitted absentee-by-mail ballots since late April.
Statewide, about 26,000 ballots were received by mail on Monday according to the secretary of state's office. That's compared to the estimated 15,000 votes that were cast in person on Monday as election officials prepare for a different election season while the state is trying to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Voters have given election officials plenty of reason to believe more people will vote by mail than ever before in Georgia.
Earlier this year, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and his office sent mail-in applications to 6.9 million registered voters in the state.
More than 1.3 million voters have requested absentee ballots during the coronavirus pandemic, but state law requires three weeks of in- person early voting before the June 9 election.
In Catoosa County, 248 people voted in person while the elections office has received 4,026 mail-in ballots.
Where to vote in Northwest Georgia
— Westside Voting Precinct, 3319 Lakeview Drive, Rossville
— Ringgold Voting Precinct, 5238 Evitt Street, Ringgold
— Chattooga County registrars Office, 10017 Commerce Street, Summerville
— Administrative Building, 71 Case Avenue, Trenton
— Gordon County Courthouse Annex, 101 South Piedmont Street, Calhoun
— Murray County Recreation Department. 651 Hyden Tyler Road, Chatsworth
— Walker County Courthouse, 103 South Duke Street, LaFayette
— Whitfield County Courthouse, 205 North Selvidge Street, Dalton
Walker County had 86 vote early Monday. The elections office in Walker County has processed about 9,000 applications for mail-in ballots and already had accepted 4,478 ballots.
In Whitfield County, 149 voted Monday and 4,310 have sent in mail-in ballots.
In Chattooga County, 105 people voted early and 1,304 have sent in mail-in ballots.
In Dade County, 118 people voted in person Monday and 946 people have voted by mail.
Election clerks have had to take precautionary safety measures to make sure voters can visit their precincts while staying safe. Most poll workers will be wearing masks, gloves and also could have protective eyewear and a personal container of hand sanitizer.
Danielle Montgomery with the Walker County elections office said her staff is wearing masks, gloves and practicing social distancing as much as possible.
"We are disinfecting machines, tables and all surfaces every hour," Montgomery said in an email. "We are also disinfecting the voter access cards as they are used."
Tonya Moore with the Catoosa County elections office said they are sanitizing everything from pens to the voting machines and making sure machines and voters are always at least 6 feet apart from each other.
Early voting will continue for three weeks in Georgia.
Before the March 24 presidential primary was delayed because of the coronavirus threat, nearly 289,000 voters cast ballots. Those voters are still eligible to participate in the primary, but their ballots will exclude the presidential race.
The primary might be the largest test yet of Georgia's new $104 million voting system, which combines familiar touchscreens with the addition of printed-out paper ballots. Voters will be able to check their ballots before inserting them into scanners attached to locked ballot boxes.
Voters can find their voting locations, review sample ballots and request absentee ballots on the state's My Voter Page at www.mvp.sos.ga.gov.
Contact Patrick Filbin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.