Updated: May 16
Today, March 24, on the day that was originally scheduled to be election day in Georgia's Presidential Preference Primary, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced he will be mailing absentee ballot request forms to each of the state's 6.9 million registered voters
UPDATE: ConnectLocal spoke this afternoon, March 24, with Stephens County Registrar Eureka Gober, who will be forwarding the written directives provided by the Secretary of State's (SOS) office to the Stephens County Registrar's Office, on March 18, regarding how to handle already-cast votes in the Georgia Presidential Preference Primary by both early voting and absentee ballots. Gober said that the local office has received no communication from the SOS office since that day regarding disposition of the ballots, nor had any information been provided to the local office regarding the mailing out of absentee request forms to all voters, as stated in this morning's SOS Office announcement.
"I learned about that this morning on Facebook," Gober said.
ConnectLocal will publish information from the March 18 letter as soon as possible, and will continue to try and confirm any details regarding the Georgia vote.
"Georgia’s most vulnerable, those over age 65 and those with a disability, can request absentee ballots for the primary and general election as well as all elections through the 2020 election cycle with this one application. Other voters will need to submit another application for future elections," states the press release.
"While Secretary Raffensperger is encouraging as many voters as possible to vote by mail, some rely on in-person voting to exercise their right to vote privately and securely. People without internet or mail access, such as those experiencing homelessness; Georgians who need language assistance; and people with disabilities who rely on voting machines to cast their ballot will still be able to do so in person on the state’s new voting system," Raffensperger continued.
No mention was made, in the press release, of the process being implemented to account for votes in the Presidential Preference Primary that have already been cast through absentee ballots and early in-person voting that began on March 2 and was scheduled to run through March 20. On March 14, ConnectLocal.News reported that the Secretary of State had announced on the department's website that early voting was being suspended due to concerns over COVID-19, and that the March 24 election day would be postponed until May 19.
Within the March 14 statement posted by Raffensperger was a comment by State Senator Nikema Williams, the Chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Georgia, that announced a complicated process of tabulation of votes already cast during early voting that includes an invitation for those who have already voted, to vote again on the newly-set May 19 election day, and thus cancelling out their prior ballot cast during early voting or absentee voting.
“Georgians who have already cast their vote in person or by mail for the March 24 primary will be able to vote again in the May 19 primary for the elections already scheduled for that date,” William’s statement included in Raffensperger’s press release said. “If Georgians who have already cast their vote for the March 24 primary do not vote again in the May 19 primary, their votes for the presidential preference primary will still count."
As addressed in a ConnectLocal editorial, this process posed a number of procedural questions about the voting process in Georgia, including how a new vote could be cast, and voters previous vote could be discarded, unless ballots had, in some manner, been marked with the identity of the voter - something that would violate long-standing privacy laws regarding voting. Concerns were also expressed about the process carrying a high potential for error that would allow for duplicate votes being counted, and about allowing for a voter to change their vote from the originally-cast vote, also a process that would violate e.
None of these issues, nor any indication of a set policy for processing already-cast votes, was mentioned in today's announcement by Raffensperger.
ConnectLocal will continue to try and obtain further information, and will update this story as more information becomes available.
Full text of the March 24 statement by Raffensperger
Secretary of State Raffensperger is taking unprecedented steps to protect the public health of Georgia voters while also upholding the integrity of the vote. These temporary steps are being made because of the COVID-19 pandemic threatening public health in Georgia and around the world.
Secretary Raffensperger will be mailing absentee ballot request forms to every Georgia voter. This extraordinary effort to ensure all Georgians can vote without fear for their health will supplement extra measures to ensure those who rely on in-person voting to access the ballot can do so safely.
“Times of turbulence and upheaval like the one we Georgians face require decisive action if the liberties we hold so dear are to be preserved,” said Raffensperger. “I am acting today because the people of Georgia, from the earliest settlers to heroes like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Congressman John Lewis, have fought too long and too hard for their right to vote to have it curtailed. Georgia has faced challenges before and overcome them, and we can do so again through the grit and ingenuity that has made America a shining example for democracies around the world.”
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is moving to increase Georgia voter access and protect the public health of voters and poll workers during the COVID-19 emergency through increased mail in voting. In the 2016 and 2018 November elections, around 95 percent of Georgia voters opted to cast their ballot in person versus the 5 percent who did so by mail. With social distancing as the most important tool for limiting the spread of coronavirus, providing alternatives to voting in person is crucial. All Georgia voters can request and vote an absentee ballot for any reason.
Raffensperger will send absentee ballot request forms to the Georgia’s 6.9 million voters in an effort to allow as many Georgia voters as possible to exercise their right to vote without leaving their homes. In doing so, Raffensperger will literally be dropping a way to vote in safety and security on each Georgia voter’s doorstep. They will simply have to fill out and return the application to vote by mail in the upcoming elections with no in-person risk of exposure to COVID-19.
Georgia’s most vulnerable, those over age 65 and those with a disability, can request absentee ballots for the primary and general election as well as all elections through the 2020 election cycle with this one application. Other voters will need to submit another application for future elections. The elderly and disabled will to be able to vote in safety and security.
While Secretary Raffensperger is encouraging as many voters as possible to vote by mail, some rely on in-person voting to exercise their right to vote privately and securely. People without internet or mail access, such as those experiencing homelessness; Georgians who need language assistance; and people with disabilities who rely on voting machines to cast their ballot will still be able to do so in person on the state’s new voting system. Additionally, research from the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law shows that eliminating “in-person voting could disproportionately disenfranchise Black, Latino, and young voters”. Their right to vote too needs protection.
To that end, Raffensperger is taking extra steps to limit the threat of COVID-19 at the polling place. Poll workers will receive additional resources to clean the equipment regularly. In-person voters who show up to vote in person will be instructed to maintain a safe distance when waiting to vote.
These measures will protect poll workers as well. Understanding the extra risk Georgia’s generally elderly poll workers face, Raffensperger is working to help counties hire more and younger poll workers. Extra staff will allow those who feel sick to be absent from the polls without significantly impacting continuity while a younger pool of workers will increase resiliency in the face of the COVID-19 threat.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is taking these unprecedented actions for the safety and security of Georgia’s voters. Through these decisive steps, Raffensperger is protecting public health and the right to vote in Georgia.