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Pandemic shakes up election year

All voters will get an absentee ballot application this year



Shelter-in-place orders and the threat of COVID-19 have caused unprecedented changes in our country, including huge changes to this year’s election cycle. As a result, all 6.9 million Georgia voters will receive an absentee ballot application so they can request to vote in the May 19 primary from the safety of their home. 

“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 Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. “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.”

  Voters will receive the application from the state, and will return it to the local elections office, which will check signatures and enter the application into the Secretary of State’s system. The state will then mail the voter a ballot and the voter will return it to the local elections office. Pickens’ Elections Supervisor Julie Roberts said she anticipates her office, which has just two staff members, will receive a high-volume of absentee ballots. 

“We will just handle it as we can,” she said, noting that to her knowledge this is the first time the state has sent absentee ballot applications to all voters.  

At this time, the primary is scheduled for May 19, but there have been two requests from Georgia House Speaker David Ralston to move the date to no earlier than June 23. 

“Pushing the primary back a month or more gives us more time to allow the situation to improve so that voters can vote in the manner in which they are most familiar,” Ralston said in a prepared statement. “More importantly, it would make our highest priority the health and safety not only of voters, but our hard-working poll workers and elections officials.”

Roberts said she agrees the date should be pushed back because of complications social distancing could create with voting at the elections office and polling places. 

“Considering the fact that the president has extended social distancing to April 30, and with early voting to begin April 27, we could see some issues,” she said, adding that for early voting the office could only accommodate two voters at one time. “We would have to have one voter on one side of the office and one on the other, and everyone else would have to line up outside six feet apart. I know it has been confusing to voters with election dates moving, but I think it would be best to delay.” 

Roberts said the social distancing restrictions would create longer voting times, which would be exacerbated by the new voting system.

“Voters are not familiar with the new system and many didn’t get a chance to come try it out,” she said. “All of it taken into account together would create a longer process.” 

But according to Capitol Beat News Service, although he did move the presidential primary as a result of disaster declarations, the secretary of state “stopped short late last week of agreeing to delay the presidential and state primaries any further, noting in a Facebook message Saturday that doing so would raise serious legal and practical issues. Pushing back the presidential primary along with state and local primaries would require Kemp to extend the state’s public health emergency past its current April 13 deadline…The governor has not yet indicated whether he might seek a 30-day extension of that emergency status, which would require the General Assembly to reconvene for a special session to approve it.” 

The local elections officer said although she has not discussed it specifically with candidates, she imagines campaigning has also slowed with social restrictions. 

“I know that numerous meet-and-greets have been cancelled, and I don’t think candidates are visiting homes, shaking hands or kissing babies,” she said. “I imagine it’s slowed significantly or stopped for a lot of those candidates.”