The McDuffie County elections office will be short-staffed for the next several days as they process a record number of absentee ballots after two staffers tested positive for COVID-19. No poll workers or voters have reportedly been affected.
Phyllis Wheeler, elections supervisor in McDuffie County outside Augusta, said her absentee ballot clerk and front desk clerk have the virus, and said in a phone interview that she herself was tested Wednesday morning.
Wheeler had to send home the rest of her staff, including a number of part-time workers and students that were working to process absentee applications and ballots, until the coronavirus test results are complete. Her assistant elections supervisor was also tested for the virus and is working until the results are known.
"We're a small county but we've just been overwhelmed by the number of ballots coming back," she said. "We've processed already over 3,500... in 2018 we only had 800."
Only 64 people showed up to vote in person during the first two days of the three week early voting period.
Wheeler said any problems with or questions about the two early voting locations will be handled over the phone, and only one poll worker indicated they would stop working out of concern over the virus.
Wheeler has been working in elections for almost 30 years and said while this would put her staff behind in processing ballots, voters should be patient and not have concerns about their vote.
"I'm gonna do the best I can... I started doing this here in '91 in McDuffie County, and I've never let them down," she said. "I think they know that I'm going to do what I can do as best I can do it, and I'm going to keep this office rolling."
The secretary of state's office is working with McDuffie County and surrounding elections offices to provide additional resources and support to ensure there is minimal delay in the election process.
“The speed and the willingness with which neighboring county election officials stepped up to offer assistance and resources to McDuffie County is truly incredible," Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said in a statement. "We have amazing county election officials in Georgia, and they are the reason we have safe and secure elections. As we continue to vote in a pandemic we encourage people of all ages to vote by absentee ballot and keep lines light at the polls for those with disabilities and special needs.”
Wheeler and Georgia's other 158 county elections directors are facing an unprecedented election with fewer places to vote, personal protective equipment for staff and social distancing guidelines. That means even a handful of people waiting to vote can create a longer line.
MORE: Social Distancing, Light Turnout Mark Georgia’s First Day Of Coronavirus Early Voting
This story has been updated at 1:22 p.m. to reflect a second staff member who will be workring in the office while awaiting a COVID-19 test.