More than 1 million voters have requested a mail-in ballot to vote in Georgia's primary elections in June, an enormous increase driven by the coronavirus outbreak.
In Bulloch County, Elections Supervisor Pat Lanier Jones said her office had received more than 8,000 requests as of Friday from registered Bulloch voters for mail-in ballots to participate in the June 9 primary.
When Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger postponed the primary elections because of the virus outbreak, the state encouraged people to vote by mail. Election officials mailed a form in late March that can be used to request an absentee ballot to all 6.9 million active registered voters in Georgia.
“Now we can see that effort is exceeding far past our own aspirations," Raffensperger said Thursday. “Today, we are passing the 1 million mark in absentee ballot requests. This is unprecedented.”
In the last statewide general primary in a presidential election year, a total of about 37,200 absentee ballots were cast. In that May 2016 primary election, 270 Bulloch residents cast mail-in ballots, according to data provided by Jones.
Voters can return the ballot application by mail and then return their filled-in ballots by mail or in a specially established absentee ballot drop box to avoid an in-person trip to the polls and potential exposure to the virus.
Jones said Bulloch voters who have not mailed or dropped off their mail-in ballot request can drop off their request in a box that’s located inside the elections office at the County Annex, 113 N. Main St.
Jones said June 5 is the last day a requested absentee ballot can be mailed to a voter.
“We are encouraging everyone to submit their absentee ballot request ASAP,” Jones said. “These ballots are being mailed from Arizona, and waiting to the last day may present some issues.”
If someone has not yet received an absentee ballot application, Jones said to go to www.mvp.sos.ga.gov and download the form. They then can mail, email or drop off the application at the Bulloch elections office
Raffensperger's office said 700,000 ballots already were mailed to voters.
Bulloch voters who have requested a ballot and not received it yet should get one soon, Jones said. She added that there is some slight confusion about how to mail or seal the ballot once a voter has filled out his or her choices.
“The instructions state to put the ballot in the white envelope before placing it in the one with yellow,” Jones said. “There is no white envelope. There is what is called a ‘sleeve,’ a folded piece of paper for the ballot to be placed in and then put in the yellow envelope. Voters will need to sign the oath on the back of the yellow envelope.”
Once the ballot is in the envelope, Jones said, “We have a drop box in the lobby for ballots and one for other items like applications, voter registration cards and other documents.”
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.
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.
“For (early) voting in person, we will be required to follow social distancing guidelines, which will limit our number of the (voting machines) that we will be able to use and limits the number of people allowed in our offices,” Jones said.
For the June 9 election, Jones is still uncertain about how many of the county’s 16 precincts will actually be open,
She said it would require 125–135 poll workers to staff every precinct properly, and many of them are retirees over age 70. They may not feel safe to work, and Jones said she would not put them in harm’s way if they are reluctant.
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.
The Associated Press and Herald reporter Al Hackle contributed to this report. Jim Healy may be reached at (912) 489-9402.