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Discussions about how to vote safely in a pandemic have been occurring across the country for months. Will Americans be willing to wait in line at the polls to cast their ballots? In Georgia, early in-person voting began this week. Daniel Bush has been reporting in the state, and he joins Judy Woodruff to discuss what he’s seeing at polling places -- and hearing from concerned voters.
Early in-person voting began in Georgia this week.
And our Daniel Bush has been reporting around the state. And he joins me now.
So, Dan Bush, you have been at several polling locations, I understand. Tell us what in-person voting looks like in a pandemic.
Well, Judy, there were big questions going into this election how in-person voting would take place.
Now, as states begin early voting, we're beginning to get some answers. Here in Georgia, masks are mandatory. I was at polling locations both in Atlanta and in suburban communities outside of the city. There is PPE everywhere, poll workers in gloves, a lot of hand sanitizers.
A good example of that is State Farm Arena. That's the arena where the NBA Hawks play. "NewsHour" got access to that facility, including an exclusive look at the floor where most of the voting takes place. It is a big operation. And the Hawks' CEO told me, Judy, that they are spending a — quote — "significant amount of money" on this to make it as safe as possible.
He wouldn't say exactly how much. But it gives you a sense of the scale of this operation. Election officials believe me this is not something that they had ever had to plan for. But they are taking as many steps as necessary to make it safe for people who show up to the polls.
And, Dan, I couldn't quite tell in that video you showed. Are people standing six feet apart there?
That's a very good question. There are markers on the floors that I saw in every polling place. People are trying to keep their distance.
But, of course, when it gets crowded, it can be a little bit difficult to do that.
So, mail-in voting, Dan, I gather you have been picking up concerns about that.
What are people telling you about how they're voting, how they're thinking about voting?
Well, Judy, this is a state with a long history of voting rights issues, a lot of concern, particularly among Black voters, who have faced a lot of challenges voting in this state, frankly, about how to cast their ballots.
I spoke to many voters who said that they had great concerns, that they thought that their votes would not be counted. Just a couple of years ago, the current governor, Brian Kemp, then the secretary of state, took about 500,000 people off of the rolls. It's widely considered to be the biggest voter purge in the history of the country.
I spoke with one voter who described some of these challenges, Sedrick Blake. Let's hear what he's had to say.
In 2018, I had trouble casting my ballot. I was purged from the voter rolls. And it took me four to five trips back and forth between counties to cast my vote. I eventually did.
This year, I wanted to see my vote cast personally. When I pushed the green button, and the light flashed, I knew my vote had been counted.
So, there you have it, Judy, some challenges that voters are facing, also a lot of anxiety and fear about how this election is going to play out, whether or not people should go to the polls.
Here's another voter. This is Debra Henson.
This particular election, for some reason, this fear that it wouldn't count made me come in to vote, no absentee, no dropping my vote off, no mailing my vote.
Don't know what's going on with the post office. And my mother worked for the post office over 30 years. So, I have never had a fear that my mail wouldn't be delivered. But, this particular time, I did.
So, the fear of not being counted made me come in, stop what I'm doing, come in and vote in-person.
As a result, Judy, there are a lot of people showing up early.
A couple of numbers for you just here in the state of Georgia already. This is from the secretary of state's office — 742,000 people have already voted. That's 242,000 in-person, the rest by mail-in. That represents potentially a significant jump by the time we get to November 3.
Already, on the first day of early voting here, a 42 percent increase over the first day of early voting in 2016. So, people are heading to the polls.
And just quickly, Dan, you talk to Democrats and Republicans. How do they think this debate over mail-in voting is going to affect the results?
Well, Judy, this is so interesting.
There seems to be a shift among Democrats. You think back to the spring, when they were taking Republican legislatures to court, arguing in-person voting is not safe, we should have more options for voters to vote by absentee.
Now I spoke to several Democratic officials who said, you know what, things have changed. There is a concern among Democrats that there could be a scenario on election night where there is such a big increase in mail-in voting that there are a lot of votes that have not been counted, that election results can't be called, and that potentially the Trump campaign could try and litigate to try and reduce that vote count.
So, now Democrats are urging voters, if you can vote in-person, if it's safe, go ahead and do so.
On the Republican side ,I have spoken to Republicans who are pretty concerned. One Republican said there's a great concern that President Trump's attacks on mail-in voting have backfired, because we are seeing so many people go to the polls.
This Republican said also that it's having a negative impact on down-ballot races, that a lot of those suburban Republican voters we hear so much about are holding their noses, as he put it, and voting for Joe Biden.
I have spoken to some voters who voted for President Trump and are now voting for the Democratic nominee.
And, finally, Judy, I should point out that we pay a lot of attention to these long lines. One thing they do indicate is that voters have made up their minds. We are still a couple of weeks out, but there are a lot of voters who feel that they have all the information they need. They're ready to cast their ballots.
Dan Bush, so important to get that first-person look at what is going on, on the ground, reporting for us from Georgia.
Thank you, Dan.
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Daniel Bush is PBS NewsHour's Senior Political Reporter.
Kate Grumke is a politics producer at PBS NewsHour.
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