By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Returned absentee ballots far outpace in-person early voting
Only Saturday to vote this one; then early voting Monday-Friday
In this file photo, Jeannette Perkins, left, passes out face masks to sisters Tammy Humphrey and Shelia McGahee while making their way past deposit boxes for absentee ballots as the Bulloch County Elections Office and poll workers host early voters on Wednesday, May 27, 2020. Georgians’ support or disapproval of the state’s controversial new voting law largely broke along political party lines in a survey the University of Georgia released Wednesday.

Roughly halfway through the three weeks of early voting opportunity, eight times as many Bulloch County residents have returned mailed absentee ballots as have voted in-person,  and that many more absentee ballots remain out awaiting possible completion.

“Our mail has definitely exceeded the in-person,” said Bulloch County Deputy Registrar Shontay Jones.

The numbers she provided showed that to be putting it mildly. As of about 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, 560 people had cast ballots in person since advanced voting opened May 18. But 4,802 absentee-by-mail ballots had been completed and accepted back at the Bulloch County Board of Elections and Registration office.

That was out of 9,571 previously mailed absentee ballots counted as valid. Actually, 9,853 had been mailed to voters, but 281 of those had been cancelled, such as for voters who requested absentee ballots but then decided to vote in person, and one ballot was listed as “spoiled.”


Saturday voting too

In-person advanced voting, with social distancing and some other precautions in place, remains open at the elections office in the County Annex, 113 N. Main St., from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday through Friday until June 5. Additionally, in-person Saturday voting will be available at the same location this Saturday only, May 30, from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m.

Absentee ballots can also still be mailed out at voters’ request. These will be accepted back at the elections office until 7 p.m. on Election Day, June 9. That day, polls are scheduled to be open 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. in all 16 of Bulloch County’s traditional precincts.

The in-person early voting at the annex shows the kinds of precautions that will have to be expanded to those precincts.


COVID precautions

Voters are not required, but are encouraged, to wear masks and gloves at the polling place. In fact, disposable gloves in three sizes, as well as hand sanitizer, are provided on a table outside the check-in area.

“What we’re asking the voters to do is to at least grab a glove – small, medium or large – for the finger that they will be using to touch the screen to  vote,” Jones said.

Down the corridors of the elections office and in front of its tables, large round stickers on the floor remind voters to stand six feet apart. Only three of the touch-screen machines are set up to work, where there were previously eight, and posters block the voting stations between them.

Poll workers wipe the green voter cards, which are like ATM cards programmed with ballot information that voters insert to load the touch-screen machines, with alcohol after each use. A small container is provided for voters to drop the cards into without having to hand them to poll workers.

With Georgia’s new multi-device voting system, voters also carry their finished ballot printout to another machine, the tabulator or scanner. Once fed into this, the ballot falls into the locked box in the machine’s base.

For people who want to return absentee ballots directly instead of through the mail, a locked box is provided, locked to a table in the lobby in sight of a security camera, along with a locked box for non-ballot documents.

Wednesday, all election workers who were facing voters at tables wore masks. Some other employees, working in their own office areas, did not.


On the ballots

Candidates up for election range from those for U.S. Congress and state Senate through sheriff and county solicitor-general to, for some districts, county commission and school board seats. These are variously on the Democratic and Republican primary ballots and a nonpartisan general election ballot that is issued along with both parties’ ballots.

Now largely an afterthought, the presidential preference primary is also on party ballots for voters who did not vote early in that election before it was cancelled in March. The rest of this election was postponed from May 19, all because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sign up for the Herald's free e-newsletter