A sign about cleaning voting machines greets voters at the Fulton County Government Center polling place.
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A sign about cleaning voting machines greets voters at the Fulton County Government Center polling place.

UPDATE Sun. March 15, 2020: Georgia's presidential primary has been postponed until May. All early voting has been suspended.

From cleaning touchscreen machines to encouraging absentee voting, recent guidance shared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Georgia Secretary of State’s office seeks to minimize the risk of coronavirus at polling places.

Poll workers should use isopropyl alcohol wipes on the ballot-marking devices, provide hand sanitizer throughout voting locations and consider bringing in extra poll workers in case someone becomes ill, an email sent Friday to county officials reads.

Not all cleaners are created equal, or helpful for the voting equipment. Chris Harvey, the state’s election director, provided instructions for cleaning the iPads used for checking in voters and the ballot-marking devices that voters use to make their selections – especially what not to use.

“Do NOT use Clorox, Lysol, or other cleaners or wipes on the BMD screens,” he wrote. “Cleaning products and abrasive materials will diminish the coating and might scratch the iPad.”

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said in an interview that his office was following best practices that the CDC put out, and wanted to remind voters about Georgia’s three-week early voting period that typically has lower turnout than Election Day and the no-excuse absentee ballot voting.

“If people don't feel comfortable being out in the public space, that then flows back to the absentee ballot process that we have, you can get an absentee ballot for whatever reason,” he said. “And we encourage people to take advantage of that, if that's something that might work for them, particularly with the coronavirus if that's a concern to any voter.”

The CDC advises that the spread of COVID-19 most frequently occurs among close person-to-person contact within about 6 feet, and is more common through respiratory droplets than contacting contaminated surfaces.

“Cleaning of visibly dirty surfaces followed by disinfection is a best practice measure for prevention of COVID-19 and other viral respiratory illness in election polling locations,” the CDC website reads.

The federal health agency is encouraging voters to utilize voting methods that minimize direct contact with other people and reduce crowd size at the polls, including mail-in absentee ballots, early voting and utilizing off-peak times to vote on Election Day.

Another tactic is “social distancing,” which increases space between people and decreases the frequency of contact among individuals. Polling places can accommodate thousands of voters on Election Day in a big election cycle, and Raffensperger said again that those concerned could take advantage of absentee ballots.

“If you’re afraid of being in an area with other folks and you don’t know where they’ve been, or if you want to self-quarantine yourself, that gives you that option,” he said.

158 counties are currently using the state’s $104 million ballot-marking devices and one, Athens-Clarke County, is using hand-marked paper ballots.

At an early voting site in Fulton County Tuesday, large containers of hand sanitizer dotted the room and signs on the wall indicated what workers there were doing to keep the polling place clean: “For your safety, our voting machines are cleaned on a regular basis with disinfecting wipes.”