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Prep work underway for election
Early voting begins Oct. 12; mail-in ballots to go out Sept. 18
vote

The deadline to register for the presidential election is Oct. 5, 2020.

To register or request an absentee ballot, go to:

https://www.mvp.sos.ga.gov/MVP/mvp.do

Election Day is still eight weeks away and early voting doesn’t begin until Oct. 12, but preparations for what likely will be a presidential election like no other are well underway at the Bulloch County Elections Department.

“Without question, we face some challenges we haven’t seen before, but the (June) primary and (August) runoff gave us some hands-on training that was very helpful,” said Bulloch County elections Supervisor Pat Lanier Jones.

In addition to the huge increase in actual voting a presidential election always brings, the COVID-19 pandemic has created issues that make ensuring health safety for all voters and elections workers a top priority. And first up will be managing the early voting process.

In 2016, Bulloch County set a record for voting prior to the presidential election when more than 39 percent of the county’s then active registered voters voted early or returned paper absentee ballots. According to voting numbers from the Bulloch County Elections Department, 12,577 Bulloch County residents appeared in person to vote early on touch-screen machines, while 1,074 paper absentee ballots were returned.

While Jones isn’t making any predictions about county voters setting a record for early voting this year, she is confident that casting votes via absentee ballots will see a massive increase.

“We have received 4,641 absentee ballot requests (as of Sept. 2) for the presidential election,” Jones said. “I expect that number to increase substantially.”

 

More absentee ballots

In the June 9 primary, more than 7,200 Bulloch voters voted by mail, almost half the 14,862 total ballots cast and by far the most mail-in ballots the elections office ever received, Jones said. That was a trend around the state, too, as a record 1.1 million Georgians voted absentee by mail in the June primary. State officials expect that number to grow for the November election that could see more than 5 million cast their ballots. So far, almost 1 million state residents have requested absentee ballots.

To request an absentee ballot, you can go to the Bulloch elections office in the county annex building or you can go to the Georgia Secretary of State’s website — https://sos.ga.gov/ — and click on the “Secure Your Absentee Ballot Today” box.

The state will begin mailing out absentee ballots to people who requested them on Sept. 18 and the deadline to request a ballot is Oct. 30. However, officials in Georgia and across the nation urge voters to request a ballot as soon as possible.

Ballots must be either returned to the Bulloch elections office by Election Day on Nov. 3, or postmarked by Nov. 3 and in the office by Nov. 6.

In-person early voting will begin in Bulloch County and across Georgia on Oct. 12. The county elections office on North Main Street will be open for voting 8 a.m.–5 p.m. every weekday through Oct. 30 and on Saturday, Oct. 24.

Eight voting machines will be available at the office, but Jones said, “We cannot currently say if we will have all of them open due to COVID restrictions.”

Like 2016, the Honey Bowen Building will be open for early voting on Saturday, Oct. 24 and also 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Oct. 26–30. And voting on the Georgia Southern University campus is set for Tuesday–Thursday, Oct. 20–22, most likely in the Dining Commons. Again, Jones cautioned that both the Honey Bowen and Georgia Southern voting plans are pending any COVID-19 restrictions.

 

Pandemic obstacles

The pandemic also created obstacles for both the primary and runoff election days, forcing several polling locations to be moved to larger areas so social distancing rules could be observed.

For Election Day on Nov. 3, voters in the Nevils, Register, Portal, Fair and Leefield precincts will go to different locations. Like the June primary and August runoff, voters assigned to the Nevils precinct instead will go to the gym inside Nevils Elementary School. Register voters now will go to the Register Baptist Church Family Center, and Portal voters will cast ballots in the Aaron Worship Center Social Hall on North Grady Street.

Like the August runoff, voters who normally go to the Fair Road precinct at the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fairgrounds will vote at the Bulloch County Center for Agriculture at 151 Langston Chapel Road. And Leefield precinct voters will move to Leefield Baptist Church for voting on Nov. 3.

Another issue created by the coronavirus was a statewide shortage of Election Day poll workers.

“COVID hit us hard,” Jones said. “We had seasoned poll workers that for various reasons met some of the requirements to shelter in place. For the first time in 35 years of doing elections, we were blessed to have county employees willing to step up and assist us with both elections.  

“Since then, the state and several organizations have apps out that are asking for citizens to sign up and be poll workers. As of (Sept. 2), we have mailed out around 129 new poll worker packets and have had 42 returned so far. These 42 are currently in the HR process; once this step is completed, we will schedule them for new poll worker training.”

Despite the challenges, Jones is confident her staff can handle the necessary changes needed to ensure the safety and security of the voting process for all facets of the election: mail-in ballots, early voting, Election Day and COVID concerns.

“The primary and the runoff gave us the opportunity to try different set ups in preparation to the November election,” Jones said. “We had a few kinks but this was all new to everyone and we had two successful elections.”

 

Jim Healy may be reached at (912) 489-9402.

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