The State Election Board approved an emergency rule Wednesday giving voters the option to drop off their primary election absentee ballots at dedicated drop boxes in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Local elections offices are expected to receive a record number of mail-in ballots since the state sent out 6.9 million absentee ballot applications because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Each county elections office can decide if it will provide the drop-off boxes.
The rule is only in place for the June 9 election for now, however state officials are likely to consider making the new balloting option permanent, said Ryan Germany, general counsel for Georgia’s Secretary of State.
It’s possible federal grant money provided for elections can be used to pay for the drop boxes, he said.
“This would allow the county registrars to establish one or more secure drop boxes at their office or another on other government property in their county,” Germany said.
Drop boxes are a new voting option for people concerned about contracting the new coronavirus through in-person voting. Georgia officials twice postponed election dates this spring, with the latest shift from May 19 to June 9 after the statewide emergency order was extended last week. The presidential preference primary was long set for March 24.
The June election includes the presidential preference primary, as well as U.S. Congressional, state legislative and local races. Some Georgians will decide whether to raise taxes or vote on other ballot questions.
The Democratic Party of Georgia supports the drop boxes as a safer, postage-free option available to voters, said Saira Draper, director of voter protection for the state Democratic Party.
The state should cover the added costs, preferably through a portion of the $10 million in the federal CARES Act provided for elections in Georgia, she said.
“Ideally during this time of pandemic, drop boxes will be located outside, so that voters can access them while limiting interaction with others,” Draper said. “Offering drop boxes behind locked doors available only for certain times carries the same risk as in-person early voting.”
Elections board member David Worley voiced support for the decision, especially with so many absentee ballots expected to come in.
“I am anxious to see how it plays out in the primary and what we may need to do to use it later in the year,” he said.
In Houston County, some voters are already placing their absentee ballot applications into a small, indoor locked drop box that is typically used for voter registration forms.
Elections Supervisor Debra Presswood said Houston’s elections board will get a chance to provide guidance before the county decides if an outdoor drop box is offered as an option.