Record-smashing 1 million Georgians plan to vote absentee in June primary

    Georgia's election officials expect a record number of voters to cast ballots by mail in the June 9 election to avoid going to precincts during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Secretary of State's office said Thursday more than 1 million Georgians requested absentee ballots so far. John McCosh/Georgia Recorder

    More than 1 million Georgians asked for absentee ballots for the June 9 general primary election by Thursday, an unprecedented number as voters avoid precincts and in-person contact.

    Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said this week’s milestone is evidence of Georgians prioritizing a safer way to vote during the COVID-19 public health crisis. His office mailed out 6.9 million absentee ballot applications to active voters, who then can request actual ballots to mail in to elections officials.

    A 2005 law passed during Gov. Sonny Perdue’s tenure, allows Georgians to vote by mail for any reason. During the 2016 general primary election, only 37,200 Georgians took that option, a number that should easily be eclipsed in June’s election.

    So far, county elections officials have mailed out 650,000 absentee ballots for the upcoming election, Raffensperger said.

    “This is unprecedented,” he said during Thursday’s press conference in Liberty Plaza across from the state Capitol. “County election officials are doing an outstanding job responding to the huge increase of absentee ballot applications.”

    The June ballot includes U.S. Congressional primaries, primaries for all 236 legislative seats as well as local elections and ballot questions. Voters who did not vote early in the postponed presidential primary will also get that chance.

    The Secretary of State office’s promotion of absentee ballot applications generated some criticism from Georgia’s House Speaker and some say it makes the election more vulnerable to voting fraud.

    Raffensperger recently appointed a voter fraud task force, which is also creating controversy.

    The election postponements from the original dates in March and May and the mass mailing of ballot applications should help protect voters and also thousands of poll workers, many of whom are older and most vulnerable to the novel coronavirus, Raffensperger said.

    “Given those realities, I turned to my operations and elections team, consulted with our laws and our systems to take pressure off of in-person voting locations and give voters that option to vote as safely as possible,” he said.

    The state is providing election workers with 33,000 reusable masks as well as sanitizer wipes and taking other safety precautions during the health crisis. About $1.6 million in federal grants will help defray some of the costs for county election offices, Raffensperger said.

    A report Thursday from national security experts calls for more federal money to ensure safe elections in 2020. 

    A $2 trillion federal package President Donald Trump signed in late March includes $400 million in grants for elections; however, the roughly $10 million Georgia is getting for its elections covers an estimated 10% of the costs, according to the report published by the Brennan Center for Justice.

    States and especially local elections offices are paying too much of the tab to protect elections staff, notifying the public of changes and increasing the vote-by-mail option, the report says.

    “Congress needs to put politics aside and fund state and local efforts to implement essential election security measures,” David Levine, elections integrity fellow at the Alliance for Securing Democracy, said in a statement.

    Stanley Dunlap
    Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.