A webpage that lets Georgia voters apply for an absentee ballot directly online is new for the Nov. 3 general election. This story also contains answers to some frequently asked questions, such as how voters can confirm that a mailed-in ballot has been received and accepted.
Registered voters have been able to apply for a general election absentee ballot since May 7. But of course, the actual contents of the ballot were unknown until after the primaries and a runoff. An Arizona company, contracted by the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office, is now scheduled to begin mailing the ballots Friday to registered voters who have applied for them.
But there is still time to apply if a voter wants to use an absentee ballot, and the newest way to do that is with the online application at www.securevotega.com/secureabsentee.
“This would probably be the most convenient,” said Bulloch County Election Supervisor Patricia Lanier Jones. “However, it will depend on what is available to the voter.”
Obviously, a voter needs internet access to apply this way. Also, since voters can’t physically sign the online application, it requests their Georgia driver’s license number or state-issued Georgia ID card number, relying on a signature on file. Sometimes this reportedly doesn’t work because of the way something was done when the voter obtained or renewed his or her driver’s license, Jones said, but she thinks it works for most people.
Q: How else can a voter obtain an absentee ballot?
A: A different web portal, also maintained by Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office, www.mvp.sos.ga.gov, still carries a blank absentee ballot application that can be printed out.
Blank application forms – not to be confused with actual ballots – are also available on a table in the Bulloch County Board of Elections and Registration lobby. Or at a voter’s request, staff inside the office can print out an application with the voter’s information already filled in.
Voters who are Bulloch County residents can email a completed application to firstname.lastname@example.org, fax it to (912) 764-8167; mail it to Board of Elections; 113 North Main St., Suite 201; Statesboro, GA 30458; or walk it into that office.
Q: Can a voter just walk in, apply for an absentee ballot and leave with it?
A: (The short answer is “no.”)
“A voter can walk in and apply for a mail-out ballot; however, we have to mail the ballot to them,” Jones said.
But Georgia has long issued “no excuse” absentee ballots. The voter does not have to be absent from the county on Election Day or give any other reason.
Q: How should a voter mark choices on the ballot to ensure they are counted easily and correctly?
A: The short answer is to completely fill in the little circle beside the name of only one candidate for each office. If more than one candidate is indicated, or in some cases if a check mark is used or the ballot is damaged in certain ways, the electronic tabulator will reject the ballot.
Then a vote review panel – made up of one person chosen by the county Democratic Party, one chosen by the county Republican Party and a third from the elections board or its office staff – reviews the ballot and tries to discern the voter’s intent. If a check mark was used, the panel may be able to fill in the circle and rescan the ballot.
But in other cases, the panel will fill out a new, substitute ballot to scan. If a voter marked two candidates for the same office, this can amount to voting for nobody.
“When the duplicate ballot is being created, the board skips that office unless there is a clear indication that the voter realized their mistake and changed their mind,” Jones said.
Election workers sometimes find little notes on the ballot, such as, “Marked the wrong one. Want this one,” Jones said. “We can do that because we can tell what the voter’s intent is. But when they circle-in two and it’s two different names, we can’t tell what the intent is.”
Q: If voters plan to return ballots by mail, shouldn’t they do so as soon as possible? And if I mail in my ballot, how can I check to make sure it has arrived and been accepted?
A: “We are encouraging voters to vote absentee due to the COVID; however, those who wish to vote in person may do so. I understand voters are unsure with the mail situation,” Jones said. “If a voter votes by mail and returns the ballot by mail, the voter can check the MVP page for updates.”
Again, that’s www.mvp.sos.ga.gov.
“As the ballots are returned, we will be entering this into the system; the voter will be able to see when we accepted the ballot,” she said. “So, by requesting and returning (the ballot) early, this is a way to resolve any problems that could arise.”
As an alternative to returning absentee ballots by mail, voters can also bring them to the elections office and hand them to a staff member or place them in the labeled ballot drop box in the lobby. The box and table are locked down and monitored by security cameras.
Q: If I request and receive an absentee ballot but do not complete it and turn it in, can I still vote during the three weeks of in-person early voting (Oct. 12-30) or on Election Day?
A: “Please bring the ballot with you to vote in person,” Jones said. “If you have your (absentee) ballot in your hand, the workers can cancel your ballot and process you on through the line. If you do not, you will need to complete a form (an affidavit) concerning the ballot, and the poll workers will have to call our office to get permission to cancel your ballot and allow you to vote.”
If this happens on Election Day and the phone is busy, the voter will have to wait or vote a provisional ballot, she added.
But if an absentee ballot has been voted, returned and “entered into the system, the answer is no,” Jones said. That ballot has been cast and the voter cannot withdraw it or vote again.
Local party chairs
Despite doubts raised nationally about voting by mail, the chairs of both major parties’ local organizations expressed confidence in the absentee voting process here.
“I’m fine with the process, especially the drop box, so that if people don’t want to use the mail to deliver their absentee ballot, they can bring it and put it in the drop box,” said Jessica Orvis, Bulloch County Democratic Party chair. “It would be nice if we had more than one drop box for the county, but at the moment we just have one drop box.”
Reid Derr, Bulloch County Republican chair, said he considers absentee voting in Georgia, with its established, regular procedure, to be “very different from just generalized mail balloting” used in some states and proposed in others.
While suggesting that individuals vote by whichever method they prefer, he called absentee ballots “a very valid and useful way to vote for many people: shut-ins, military, people who are out of their jurisdiction on Election Day.”