Eighty-one.

That is how many people visited the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds in Lawrenceville over a period of 10 hours, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., on Monday to cast their ballots early for the June 9 primary election. It was one of two early voting sites that opened Monday — the other being the county’s elections office in Lawrenceville — and it was chosen because it’s large indoor space provided plenty of room for social distancing during the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic.

But hardly anyone came by.

“I think the interesting thing to note is that there is no line at the fairgrounds, and there hasn’t been one all day,” county spokesman Joe Sorenson said.

There were a few hundred people who came out to vote in person in the election on Monday, but most of them went to the elections office.

Shortly before the fairgrounds early voting location closed at 7 p.m., county officials said 92 people had voted there. The elections office polling location, which closed at 5 p.m., had a line of about 20 voters when it opened and saw a total of 327 voters come by on Monday.

“We’ve been steadier than I thought we would be for the first day of it so it will be interesting to see where we go from here,” Gwinnett Elections Supervisor Kristi Royston said.

The election supervisor said attempts were made to encourage voters who arrived before the elections headquarters polling site opened at 8 a.m. to head over to the fairgrounds, which opened an hour earlier.

“(The elections headquarters) is normally our largest turnout facility for advance voting and we’ve had folks come in here who I think are just used to coming here because even when we had the line, we were going out and saying the (fairgrounds) is two miles away, there’s no wait there and I had like three takers,” Royston said. “Most everybody else said ‘Nah, I’ll just wait here.’”

That preference for voting at the elections headquarters was evidence shortly after the headquarters site closed Monday.

A man walked up to vote, and a poll worker told him the polls at the elections headquarters were closed for the day, but he could go to the fairgrounds and vote there since it stayed open an additional two hours.

“Is this site going to be open tomorrow?” the man then asked.

“Yes sir, it opens at 8 a.m.,” the poll worker said.

“OK, I’ll just come back here tomorrow then,” the man said.

There has been a large number of absentee by mail ballots requested for the election. Royston said her office had received about 117,000 applications for mail in ballots and more than about 103,000 of them have been sent out so far.

“So we’re about to catch it,” Royston said of an anticipated wave of mail-in ballots flowing in. “I will tell you I’ve seen some folks come in today who have done cancellation sheets, like they got a by-mail ballot, but they’ve decided they wanted to come vote in person so they’re canceling that (mail in ballot) and voting here.”

But, the shadow of COVID-19 is looming over the election, and the county is taking several steps to protect voters and poll workers at the early voting sites.

Signs and tape markers have been installed on the floors at both locations to show voters how far apart they should stand. Voting machines have also been spread out to promote social distancing as well. There are about eight voting machines at the headquarters location, the fairgrounds site — due to its greater amount of space to spread out equipment — has 24 voting machines.

Each voting machine is wiped down with a disinfectant after each voter uses it, the county has provided masks or face shields and gloves for staff to wear if they want to, and hand sanitizer is also available to them. The county is also providing gloves and hand sanitizer for voters to use if they want it.

“It’s gone really well for the times that I’ve been up here,” Royston said. “Even though they may have been waiting a little longer than normally would have, they seem to have understood. I think it’s just one of those cases where we’re all getting used to where we go somewhere, we have to stand here, wait here, that kind of thing.”

As Lawrenceville resident Daniel Mensah walked out of the elections office after voting said he he found the experience favorable. He’d had COVID-19-related concerns and did wear a mask as he dropped by the headquarters location to vote, but he approved of the way county officials handled the setup to address safety concerns.

“I was a little bit concerned because I thought it was going to be a whole lot of people, but everything was orderly,” he said. “I prefer to vote in person ... for me, I think it’s more appropriate to vote in person rather than absentee ballot.”

Early voting for the June 9 primary will continue through June 5, although polling sites will be closed May 25 in recognition of Memorial Day.

The elections headquarters voting site is open Mondays through Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 7 p.m., at 455 Grayson Highway in Lawrenceville. The fairgrounds voting location is open Mondays through Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 7 p.m., at 2405 Sugarloaf Parkway in Lawrenceville.

One bit of information any voter who decides to cast a ballot at the fairgrounds will need to know is that they need to enter the property from the Davis Road entrance.

Four satellite voting sites will be open May 30 to June 5. Those sites will be located at:

♦ Bogan Park Community Recreation Center, 2723 North Bogan Road, Buford

♦ George Pierce Park Community Recreation Center, 55 Buford Highway, Suwanee

♦ Lenora Park Gym, 4515 Lenora Church Road, Snellville

♦ Lucky Shoals Park Community Recreation Center, 4651 Britt Road, Norcross

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I'm a Crawford Long baby who grew up in Marietta and eventually wandered to the University of Southern Mississippi for college. Earned a BA in journalism (double minor in political science and history). Previously worked in Florida and Clayton County.

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