of absentee ballot requests have been arriving at the Bulloch County elections
office all this week, via the U.S. mail, for the primary election that Georgia
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced Thursday is rescheduled to June
Originally the state primary was scheduled for May 19, with in-person early voting to have begun April 27. Now in-person early voting is slated to begin May 18. Of course, if voters choose to vote by mail, they won’t need to appear in-person either during the three-week early voting period or at a traditional polling place on June 9.
The Secretary of State’s Office announced March 24 that it was mailing absentee ballot application forms to 6.9 million voters statewide. This was touted as giving voters a way to vote by mail “with no in-person risk of exposure to COVID-19.”
Those applications have the specific voters’ names and permanent addresses pre-printed, with other lines left blank to be filled in by each voter. Although mailed out by the state office, the forms were addressed to be returned to voters’ county election offices.
In Bulloch County, the ballot requests began arriving at the Board of Elections and Registration office Monday. On the highest-volume day, Tuesday or Wednesday, the letter carrier brought in five large trays full, said Election Supervisor Patricia Lanier Jones.
By noon Thursday, staff members had entered the information from 626 requests into the statewide database and were trying to catch up.
“We’re going full speed,” Jones said.
She said eight elections office employees are working to enter all of the information from the completed requests. Originally, she had expected to have five staff members working this week. The elections office is closed to the public through April 27, except that, outside the office’s locked doors inside the County Annex at 113 North Main St., a table has been set up with voter registration cards, blank absentee ballot request forms, an election data brochure, sample ballots and a locked drop-off box.
The county office has also received hundreds of undeliverable, unopened ballot request forms with “Return to Sender” labels affixed by the Postal Service. Some indicate “Attempted ; Not Known; Unable to Forward” and some “No Mail Receptacle.”
Overflowing a box that previously held reams of printer paper, these undeliverable forms would definitely number in the hundreds. But Jones said that she and her staff have plenty to do without trying to count them.
She said the state office apparently addressed the mass mailing of application forms to street addresses instead of mailing addresses.
People whose street address and mailing address are the same, and who haven’t moved away, should have received the forms. But for those without mailboxes at their homes who instead use post office boxes or campus addresses, the forms come to Jones’ office as undeliverable.
Print your own
For any voter who has not received one of the applications at this point, the best thing to do is go online to the statewide My Voter Page, www.mvp.sos.ga.gov, and print out an absentee ballot application, Jones said.
That is also the way to go if you thought the state-mailed form was junk mail and threw it away, she said.
The My Voter Page requires a voter’s first initial, last name, county and birthdate to log in. You cannot vote or submit the application online, but you can print it out to complete and mail. The application asks for the same information as the one the state mailed, except that you have to fill in your own name and address.
For the upcoming primary, the absentee ballot applications require checking a box to select either the Democratic or Republican ballot.
Voters who instead check “nonpartisan” will receive only a nonpartisan ballot, which would contain a Board of Education race if a voter lives in a district that has one, but not much else locally.
Candidates for other offices from county commission, sheriff and State Court solicitor-general up to U.S. senator and president appear on either the Republican ballot or the Democratic ballot, and a nonpartisan general election ballot will be included with either party’s primary ballot.
Jones said she had no clear information yet on when the absentee ballots will be mailed to voters. In a change from past elections, she said, they will be mailed directly by the state, again for return to the county office.
Now it’s June 9
Raffensperger’s announcement that he was postponing the election to June 9 came one day after Gov. Brian Kemp extended his previous COVID-19 public health state of emergency to May 13. Kemp also extended his shelter-in-place order to April 30.
“Due to the governor’s extension of the state of emergency through a time period that includes almost every day of in-person voting for an election on May 19, and after careful consideration, I am now comfortable exercising the authority vested in me by Georgia law to postpone the primary election until June 9,” Raffensperger said in Thursday’s news release.
“This decision allows our office and county election officials to continue to put in place contingency plans to ensure that voting can be safe and secure when in-person voting begins and prioritizes the health and safety of voters, county election officials and poll workers,” he said.
The particular law he cited was Official Code of Georgia-Annotated 21-2-50.1, which allows the secretary of state to postpone an election by up to 45 days when the governor or a federal agency declares a state of emergency.
Lives on the line
Jones acknowledged that holding a May 19 election in Bulloch County with her available workforce seemed impossible by the time the date was changed. She calls on 125-135 poll workers, many of them retirees over age 70, to hold a full-scale election in Bulloch County’s 16 precincts.
“Oh, I wasn’t going to have any poll workers,” she said, “and I couldn’t ask them to. I mean, I was not going to put their life on the line, and that was really the case across the state of Georgia, people were not going to work. Most of your poll workers are in that age range.”
Now a new question is whether the polling places, which include church and community buildings, will all be available June 9, she said. Another is whether the pandemic will have abated.
“We are still encouraging people to vote by mail,” Jones said.
The deadline to register to vote in the June 9 primary is May 11, and if a runoff election is needed it would be held Aug. 11.