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Gwinnett elections supervisor Kristi Royston talks to county commissioners about plans being discussed for early voting ahead of the June 9 primary on Tuesday.

The change in dates for Georgia’s primary is resulting in a change in plans that are being considered for early voting amid the COVID-19 coronavirus disease outbreak.

When the primary was still scheduled for May 19, county officials were looking at using the Gwinnett County fairgrounds as an early voting site because of its large size that would enable people to remain spread out while voting. Some of the traditional early voting sites, such as Dacula Park, Shorty Howell Park and Mountain Park Park are not conducive to maintaining social distancing, according to Gwinnett Elections Supervisor Kristi Royston.

But then the state postponed the primary to June 9, with early voting running from May 18 to June 5. Royston told county commissioners on Tuesday that change means the fairgrounds will no longer be an option.

“We have checked with the fair and it is no longer going to be an option for us to compliment the (elections) office as an advance voting site,” Royston said. “They would be available from May 18 to May 28, but they are booked May 10 onward so we would not be able to open that site.

“What staff as been talking about was the possibility of opening Rhodes Jordan Park’s community recreation center to possibly be that new compliment to the office.”

Rhodes Jordan Park is located near downtown Lawrenceville, but whether it serves as a satellite site remains to be seen. Royston told commissioners the elections office staff is still collecting information on whether it would work.

Issues such as working around summer camps at the center would have to be addressed.

Absentee-by-mail voting may take some of the pressure off in-person voting locations. Royston said the county had received about 58,000 absentee ballot applications as of Monday.

Royston also said county elections staff are still trying to determine whether they will have enough volunteers to staff polling sites during the election. They are expecting a growing number of potential poll workers to say they are going to “wait and see” what happens with the outbreak before either committing to being poll workers or saying no.

Another challenge facing the county is whether normal polling sites will be available on the new date for the primary as well as the Aug. 11 runoff.

“The May date was already on the calendar for our 156 polling locations,” Royston said. “Well now June 9 and Aug. 11 were not on the initial calendar and these facilities that we use, as you’re aware, they’re county buildings, they’re board of education facilities, they’re places of worship, they’re private-owned facilities.

“So we have reached out to these locations to say ‘These are the new dates, do you have any scheduling conflicts?’ because those dates have not been on their calendars, so they might have something booked.”

The county commission has postponed making a decision about early voting for the primary until May 5.

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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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