An order issued for the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit requires those entering the courthouse to vote or for other business to wear masks and establishes other steps to screen visitors.

The Judicial Circuit includes Walker, Catoosa, Dade and Chattooga counties.

Circuit Judge Kristina Cook Graham signed the judicial order May 18, following Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold D. Melton’s second order May 11, which extended the state’s judicial emergency for continuing essential court services and reopening nonessential court services. Walker County Elections and Registration Director Danielle Montgomery’s office is taking steps to ensure voter safety for those who prefer to cast their ballots in person in early voting for the June 9 primary and on election day.

“We have social distancing, masks and sneeze guards at the check-in station,” she said. “We are wearing masks and gloves and sanitizing everything at least once per hour.”

Elections staff wipe voter cards after each use and wipe voting machines as frequently as possible, at least once per hour, she said. Voters are asked to place their identification on the table or to hold it up to the Plexiglas, rather than staff handling the ID and then handing it back to the voter.

Montgomery said she is aware of only one person who objected to the judicial order’s safety precautions. She was told one would-be voter refused to wear a mask to enter the courthouse.

She explained that voters can remove the masks if they desire once they enter the elections office, but the order requires them to put the mask back on as they exit her office back into the hall of the courthouse.

If someone entering the courthouse does not have a mask or face covering, as required by the order, the sheriff’s department will provide one.

The order specifies giving each visitor a health screening consisting of some COVID-19-related questions and temperature check with a no-touch thermometer. The screening takes a few minutes.

Montgomery said the courthouse health precautions will remain in place until the state’s judicial emergency ends; however, voting precincts are not subject to the court order.

Voting so far

Despite COVID-19, early voting, which started May 18, is running smoothly and is typical of other elections, Montgomery said.

Her office processed 9,000 absentee ballots and has already received half of those back, she said. More than 300 voters had come to her office, the only location open for in-person early voting, by close of business May 21.

Montgomery encourages voters to mail their ballots or return them to the elections office before election day and reminds them that they must bring their ballots in no later than on election day, June 9.

Seventy early voters surrendered their absentee ballots, preferring to vote in person instead, she said.

Montgomery wants to quell concerns about absentee voting security. She said elections staff compare signatures on forms requesting an absentee ballot and on the ballots when received.

The office updates rolls by checking obituaries and they are notified by families that loved one died after requesting the absentee ballot but before the ballot was mailed back to the elections office, she said.

Walker elections staff have seen no evidence of ballot harvesting, she said.

Poll workers needed

Because many poll workers are older and possibly at greater risk of contracting COVID-19, many elections offices have had fewer volunteers to work the polls June 9.

“Most of my precincts are good,” she said. “I’m in need of some poll workers at a few precincts.”

Montgomery asks anyone is interested in volunteering to work the polls June 9 to contact her office as soon as possible because new volunteers will need training.

For election information or to volunteer as a poll worker, call the Walker County Elections and Registration office at 706-638-4349. More information election information is available at walkercountyelections.com.

Catherine Edgemon is assistant editor for the Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga., and the Catoosa County News in Ringgold, Ga.

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