Presidential primary delayed, National Guard deployed in Georgia over virus fears

Atlanta — Georgia election officials are postponing the state’s March 24 presidential primaries until May because of fears over the coronavirus.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said in a statement that in-person early voting, which began statewide March 2, will be halted and the election will be moved to May 19, when Georgia’s other 2020 primary elections are being held.

The action followed Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s signature of an emergency declaration that unlocked sweeping powers to fight COVID-19. In a speech Saturday, the governor renewed a call for places of worship, schools and others to consider canceling large gatherings as cases in the state rise.

“Our priority is to protect the health and safety of all Georgians and to ensure that as many Georgians as possible have an opportunity to vote,” said state Sen. Nikema Williams, the chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Georgia. “Continued in-person voting could compromise both goals. Georgians who have already cast their vote in person or by mail for the March 24 primary will be able to vote again in the May 19 primary for the elections already scheduled for that date. If Georgians who have already cast their vote for the March 24 primary do not vote again in the May 19 primary, their votes for the presidential preference primary will still count.”

Raffensperger has represented that all votes already cast in person and all absentee ballots will be counted and every Georgia voter who has not yet had a chance to cast a ballot in the March 24 elections will be able to do so on May 19, along with the elections already scheduled for that date.”

“Given these circumstances, I believe it is necessary and prudent to suspend in-person voting in the Presidential Preference Primary, and the local elections associated with them, and resume in-person voting for those elections as part of the already scheduled May 19 General Primary."

Channel 2′s Michael Seiden talked to Channel 2 Political Analyst Bill Crane about the decision.

“This is a presidential cycle, so we should probably have about 40% turnout,” Crane said. “Which pushes things out to about 3 million voters.”

Crane said the decision to cancel was a no-brainer, especially when you consider the average age of voters who participate in in-person voting.

“Those are senior citizens who also happened to be among the most vulnerable populations for exposure to or developing COVID-19,” Crane said.

This presidential primary will also be the first time Georgians will put the new voting machines to the test.

“We just went through a training procedure in January of all precinct personnel. What if they’re ll? They wouldn’t be able to work,” Crane said.

On Saturday, Kemp also called up the National Guard, saying he will deploy as many as 2,000 troops to help with the coronavirus response.

“To assist with COVID-19 mitigation and critical services, including the transfer of Georgians currently at Dobbins Air Reserve Base to their homes, the Georgia National Guard will now be available to communities to ensure the steady supply of medical equipment, food, shelter, or related materials to keep Georgians safe in the weeks ahead," Kemp said in a statement.

As of Saturday, the virus had infected more than 150,000 people worldwide and killed over 5,600. Georgia is reporting 66 confirmed cases, with most concentrated around metro Atlanta. One death in the state has been caused by the virus.

Election officials said in addition to the safety of the public, one of the biggest considerations was the risk the virus posed to poll workers, who are often older.

On Friday, Louisiana became the first state to push back its presidential primaries.

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