Bulloch County has added a new, outdoor drop box – open 24 hours a day, seven days a week – for completed absentee ballots.
This box, which looks like a freestanding curbside mailbox wrapped with the stars and stripes of the U.S. flag, is at the edge of the main parking lot behind the County Annex, which has a 115 North Main St. address, but the parking area is on the Walnut Street side. Not beside the elections office, the drop box is actually closer to the Board of Commissioners entrance, in front of the brick wall surrounding the base of the cellphone tower.
“Notice: This location is under video surveillance” proclaim posters on multiple sides of the box. This explains how officials intend to protect the ballots and yet keep the box available around the clock until closing time on Election Day, 7 p.m. Nov. 3. In fact, a State Election Board rule requires that all drop boxes be video-monitored and that local registrars keep the video recordings for 30 days after the results of an election are certified.
The posters on the box also lay down the law about who may “possess or deliver” a ballot for another individual. Besides the voter, persons allowed to do this include the voter’s parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, brother, sister, spouse, son, daughter, niece, nephew, grandchild, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, an individual who resides in the same household as the voter or the caretaker of a voter with disabilities as defined in state law.
Absentee ballots can also be returned by mail or placed in a previously established drop box on a locked-down table inside the elections office lobby. The new, outdoor box does not replace it, as both are being maintained, said Bulloch County Election Supervisor Patricia Lanier Jones.
Her announcement that the new outdoor drop box was operational went out as a record-setting first week of in-person early voting was drawing to a close. From Monday through Friday, 2,923 Bulloch County residents voted in-person in the elections office at the County Annex, Jones reported.
In 2016, the previous presidential election year, 2,347 Bulloch voters cast in-person ballots during the first week of early voting before the general election. In 2018, with the election of a governor, the number was 2,795 in-person voters the first week.
As of mid-afternoon Friday, 7,640 absentee ballots had been mailed to Bulloch County voters’ home addresses at their request, and 3,460 had been completed and returned. In all of the fall 2016 general election, 1,617 absentee ballots were cast in Bulloch County.
Nation and state
But the COVID-19 pandemic and controversy surrounding the presidential race have contributed to an avalanche of early voting in 2020. The Associated Press reported that 20.8 million ballots were known to have been submitted nationwide as of Friday, with eight states not yet reporting their totals. That 20.8 million equals 15% of the total 2016 turnout, with two weeks yet to go before Election Day.
Georgia’s count of ballots cast so far, as of 5 p.m. Friday topped 1.3 million, including 687,106 early in-person ballots and 620,550 returned absentee ballots, the Secretary of State’s Office reported. After the fifth day of in-person early voting in fall 2016, the Georgia totals were 538,695 ballots cast, including 453,692 in-person and just 85,003 absentees.
From one presidential election to the next, this amounts to a 377% increase in turnout as of the end of the first week of early in-person voting.
Absentee ballots can still be requested at www.securevotega.com/secureabsentee/ or by contacting the county elections office.
Meanwhile, Room 1042 in the Russell Union on the Georgia Southern University campus will open as an early voting location for three days next week, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, Oct. 20-22, from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.
The County Annex location will also remain open for early voting those same hours, Monday through Friday for the next two weeks. It will be joined by the Honey Bowen Building, 1 Max Lockwood Drive, Oct. 26-30, also 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
Saturday voting will be available Oct. 24 only, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., at both the County Annex and the Honey Bowen Building.