In-person early voting for the May 24 primaries and nonpartisan general election started Monday in Bulloch County and statewide, with some new rules in place, at least since the last statewide election in 2020.
Those new rules were actually in effect for municipal elections last year, but of course only residents of the cities and towns got to participate in those. Georgia Senate Bill 202, signed into law in March 2021, made most of the changes.
It expanded the state-mandated in-person early voting opportunity by one Saturday while shortening the time allowed to request paper absentee ballots and severely limiting the use of drop boxes.
“People that didn’t have a city election to vote in last year may not be aware that we no longer have a drop box on the outside,” said Bulloch County Election Supervisor Shontay Jones. “Effective from the changes in Senate Bill 202, the drop box is on the inside of our building, and it’s only open during the hours of advanced voting.”
In 2020, the use of drop boxes for return of absentee ballots was introduced in Georgia in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Bulloch County had at first an indoor drop box and later also an outdoor drop box. As required under the 2020 emergency rules, Bulloch County’s outdoor drop box was anchored to the ground and subjected to 24-hour, recorded video monitoring.
But Senate Bill 202 prohibited outdoor drop boxes altogether, beginning in 2021. As Jones noted, Bulloch County now has one absentee ballot drop box, inside the Board of Elections and Registration area of the County Annex at 113 N. Main St., Statesboro. By law, the drop box will only be available during the in-person early voting hours. Those are 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Monday–Friday through May 20, plus 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Saturday, May 7, and Saturday, May 14.
Incidentally, the tax commissioner has an outdoor drop box for payments near the Elections Office, and Jones has posted a sign beside it to warn people not to put ballots in the tax drop box.
Early and Saturday
Senate Bill 202 required a second Saturday for voting, in addition to the 15 Monday through Friday early voting days. One Sunday for voting also became a statewide option, but Bulloch County has not adopted Sunday voting.
The Elections Office at the North Main Annex will host early voting all 15 weekdays and both Saturdays. A second location, the Parks and Recreation Department’s Honey Bowen Building at 1 Max Lockwood Dr., will open to voters for the final five days of advanced voting, Monday–Friday, May 16–20, only.
As Monday drew to a close, poll workers at the annex said they had seen a steady influx of voters but nothing overwhelming. After 5 p.m., Jones reported there had been 117 first-day, in-person advanced ballots cast.
Meanwhile, from April 25, the first day that absentee ballots could legally be mailed, through Monday, the Bulloch County elections staff mailed 197 of the paper ballots to individual voters. Under Senate Bill 202, the first day voters can apply for the ballots is later and the last day officials can mail them is one week earlier than in the past.
For many years, absentee ballots could be mailed as late as the Friday before a Tuesday election. In the current, May 24 election, the deadline for the Elections Office to mail out absentee ballots is May 13.
But voters who complete their absentee ballots after that date can return them and they will be counted as long as they arrive in the local Elections Office by 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 24, which is also when the Election Day voting precincts will close.
Absentee ballots can be mailed back, but returning them in-person becomes more prudent as the deadline approaches.
While explaining some of the newish changes, Jones also shared some reminders about longer established rules.
First, remember to bring your driver’s license, Georgia state-issued ID or another accepted form of government-issued ID with you, whether you vote early or on Election Day. Second, campaigning, including display of such things as campaign signs, pins and clothing, is prohibited within 150 feet of all polling places.
One much-publicized Senate Bill 202 rule prohibits anyone, with the possible exception of elections staff, from giving away or offering food or beverages to people waiting in line to vote, within 25 feet of anyone waiting to vote or even within 150 feet of a polling place. But it explicitly allows poll workers “making available self-service water from an unattended receptacle to an elector waiting in line to vote.”
“I would say, with common courtesy, if we see somebody in need, standing in line for a long time, that, you know, the law allows us to offer it,” Jones said.
Another possibility would be for voters to hold one another’s place in line while they visit the water fountain, she acknowledged.
New district lines
Recent changes to the lines dividing Bulloch County Board of Education, Board of Commissioners and Georgia House of Representatives seats have taken effect for this election. Redistricting based in the 2020 Census results was enacted by the Legislature during its 2022 session.
Not everyone is affected, but some voters find themselves represented by different incumbents on the boards and in the state House.
“Sometimes people don’t realize that the district line is the street, so you could be on the even side of the street and be in one district (or the odd side and in another), but people are confused because they see that campaign sign across the street and think it’s for them, when it’s not,” Jones said.
This happens most often with the county’s eight Board of Education districts, she said. Half of the districts have elections this year, but because of staggered terms, the other half do not, and sometimes voters wonder why a candidate they want to support is not on their ballot.
The district lines determine which seats voters can help elect, but not where they vote, Jones noted. For voters who wait until May 24 to vote, precinct, not district, boundaries will determine their voting places, and Bulloch County’s precinct boundaries have not changed.
But in one case, an entire precinct, the Sinkhole precinct that votes at Union Baptist Church south of Register, has been shifted to a different state House district, Jones said. Previously in District 160, long served by Rep. Jan Tankersley of Brooklet, Sinkhole is now in District 158, currently represented by Rep. Butch Parrish of Swainsboro.
Tankersley is not seeking re-election, but Lehman Franklin is running unopposed for the District 160 seat in the Republican primary, with no Democratic opposition, either. Meanwhile, Parrish appears alone on the District 158 ballot in the Republican primary, while Madeline Ryan Smith appears on the Democratic primary ballot, and voters will choose between them in the Nov. 8 general election.
Voters can obtain a district-specific sample ballot through the statewide My Voter Page at mvp.sos.ga.gov/s/ or check their district assignments with the county elections office, (912) 764-6502 or email@example.com.