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politico – Georgia Election Administrators Fight Covid, Conspiracies Ahead of Senate Second Round

All the while, stressed and tired election workers want to prevent Senate vote count reports from turning into the mess that followed the November vote, when President Donald Trump and his allies spread unfounded allegations. about Voter Signature Verification Processes and other issues that fueled Trump’s global claim that he was cheated. Ronda Walthour, the acting election supervisor in Liberty County, said she wanted to organize more training for election officials and observers ahead of the Senate second round to resolve the issues.

“I’m going to try to have another class before the election, because I don’t want problems like I had in November,” Walthour said. The litany of unsubstantiated complaints and plots about Georgia’s general election results stemmed in part from a lack of knowledge about election administration – a niche topic, admittedly, even for politics junkies before this year.

Walthour said some poll watchers thought they could ‘walk around and do whatever they wanted to do’ in November, contrary to state guidelines which dictate both who can serve as a poll observer and what they want to do. can do so on the spot, generally preventing them from interfering in the voting process.

“The flood of disinformation has undermined people’s faith,” said Gabriel Sterling, a senior official in the Secretary of State’s office. “At the end of the day, that means you don’t trust your neighbor running the election. … And that really weighs on a lot of them.

The pandemic is also weighing on preparations, with election administrations hyper aware that Covid cases could throw a wrench into their plans at the last minute.

“We have had to close our election office twice due to potential Covid-19 exposures,” said Marjorie Howard, chairman of the Election Board in Talbot County, a small county of about 4,500 registered voters. “It happened like that, thank God… it wasn’t during an election week. Because it would have been horrible.

Several election administrators have expressed concerns that the timing of the Senate’s second round, just after the recess, could cause staffing problems.

“Not everyone takes advice and holds big family gatherings or goes to Christmas gatherings,” said Joseph Kirk, the election supervisor for Bartow County. “All we can do right now is plan for the unexpected, have a Plan B, and hope we don’t have to use it.”

During 2020, local election administrators across the country had to recruit a whole new category of volunteer poll workers during the pandemic to replace the elderly who have disproportionately occupied these roles in the past. On top of that, many offices needed far more workers than they used to hire to deal with the unprecedented wave of mail-order votes voters cast this year.

Lynn Bailey, Chief Electoral Officer for Richmond County in Augusta, normally has nine full-time employees, but has had to add 25 other temporary workers who do everything from working at advance poll sites to processing requests to vote by correspondence and returns, which is a time consuming process.

Election office budgets have exploded under the pressure. “This will be the most expensive election time of my career,” Bailey said. “We entered November with an election, when it was scheduled for summer 2019, with a budget of around 160,000 dollars. And I think the best guess right now is that this election will cost around $ 650,000. “

About a quarter of the state’s counties have received a grant from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, to which Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan have given $ 350 million this year to fill gaps in election budgets. local. Trump’s allies have tried unsuccessfully in several states to block these subsidies, which the center reopened for the run-off election.

Trump’s intense focus on Georgia since the election has stacked on the concerns that election administrators face as they prepare for Senate races. State officials blamed Trump for threats against election workers, and the president’s complaints about postal voting have turned his party against a practice that once enjoyed wide bipartisan support.

Already, Georgia appears to be the epicenter of Republican efforts to change mail-in voting rules next year. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Wednesday endorsed efforts to roll back the state’s no-excuse absentee voting program in 2021, following the Senate second round. Raffensperger, a Republican, has been a frequent target for Trump since the president lost Georgia. But rather than side with Trump’s fraud claims, he cited the burden on election officials to justify changing Georgia’s mail-in voting program – which his office had previously touted as a national leader.

“Asking county election officials not to conduct postal voting by mail in addition to three weeks of advance in-person and polling day voting is too much to handle,” Raffensperger said in a statement.

This surge would mark a setback in voter access in the state and is sure to meet stiff resistance from voting groups and Democrats next year, although Republicans have full control of it. the state legislature as well as the governorship.

In the meantime, local officials in Georgia are trying to get through an election year that will not end.

“It doesn’t even look like Christmas to any of us,” said Deidre Holden, the Paulding County Election Supervisor. “No one has had any leave. And that’s normal, because we have to pass this election.

“But it was difficult,” she continued, praising her staff. “You are physically tired, you are mentally tired. You are practically exhausted. But we know we have to keep going. “

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