Bipartisan support shown for delay of presidential primary until May

    Rep. Doug Collins, a Gainesville Republican who’s running for a Senate seat this fall, sparred online Wednesday against Stacey Abrams, who launched the voting rights advocacy group Fair Fight 2020 after she lost her bid to be Georgia’s governor in 2018. File/Georgia Recorder

    This story was updated at 8 a.m. on March 17 to reflect the current number of states that have postponed their primary election. 

    Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger assured voters Monday that the state is prepared to handle rescheduling the presidential primary that was to take place next week as part of  the May 19 regular primary, a delay prompted by the COVID-19 outbreak.

    Georgia is now one of four states in recent days to postpone the presidential primary due to safety concerns over the pandemic caused by the spread of the new coronavirus. On Monday, the state’s top official who oversees elections said that Georgia voters who already cast their ballots for the presidential primary will be able to vote for the regular primary races. Those include a primary for a U.S. Senate seat and many other offices on the ballot.

    Raffensperger, a Republican, said he is glad to have the support of the Democratic Party of Georgia in postponing the March 24 primary vote.

    Democratic Party of Georgia Chairwoman Nikema Williams, a state Senator from Atlanta, was scheduled to attend Monday’s election press conference at the Capitol, but was unable to make it because of the ongoing emergency legislative session.

    The key point is if you have already voted presidential that vote will be counted. It is secure,” Raffensperger said. 

    The delay comes as Georgia voters are learning a new $104 million voting system that still includes a touch screen but now produces a paper printout of the voter’s selections and a bar code that is then scanned by a poll worker.

    “The new paper ballot voting system has made upholding the integrity of the vote in Georgia possible,” Raffensperger said. “Because of the digital system, we are able to easily provide personalized ballots to those who voted early and to those who haven’t.”

    The decision to postpone the March primary came over the weekend as federal health officials warned that Americans should avoid interacting in groups larger than 50. Although Cobb County’s poll workers used kits with hand sanitizer and gloves many said they felt unsafe working the election as news spread of school district closings, Cobb County Elections Director Janine Eveler said. Many poll workers in Cobb and across the state are of retirement age.

    “We were urging the state, like Secretary Raffenspeger said, to take the health of the poll workers into consideration and of the public to see what could be done legally to delay an election,” she said. “We’re very hopeful that the situation will improve from this point and we won’t have the same issues for the upcoming May 19 date.”

    Elections officials stressed Monday that absentee ballots remain the safest way for people, especially anyone over the age of 60, to vote without worry of getting exposed to the coronavirus by interacting with the  public. Voters can also avoid large crowds on May 19 by going to polls during the early voting period. Early voting in the presidential primary ended a week early on Saturday and is set to resume April 27.

    Stanley Dunlap
    Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.