Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger renewed calls Thursday for voters who have requested absentee ballots to send them in the mail or put them in a local drop-off box ahead of the June 9 primary election.
More than 600,000 Georgia voters have returned absentee ballots so far, marking roughly 40% of the 1.5 million voters who requested them since March when the coronavirus pandemic escalated in the state, Raffensperger said.
At a news conference Thursday, Raffensperger urged voters whose mail-in ballots are “sitting on your kitchen table” to make sure they are returned by 7 p.m. on June 9, after which ballots will not be counted.
Raffensperger called for as many people as possible to vote by mail rather than in person to lower the risk for spreading the virus among voters and poll workers, many of whom are older individuals more vulnerable to the virus’ health impacts. State election officials are also allowing counties to install drop-off boxes where voters can place their absentee ballots instead of mailing them.
“We need as many of you as possible to use this safe and easy voting tool,” Raffensperger. “The [coronavirus] threat is still a potential threat to orderly elections and in-person voting.”
As of Wednesday, Raffensperger said more than 100,000 Georgians have voted in person during the early-voting period, which began May 18. Many precincts have already seen long lines with people forced to keep their distance from each other while queued up to vote and spend time canceling absentee ballots they requested since they are voting in person.
A handful of elections officials and a voter contracted the virus recently in McDuffie and Appling counties, highlighting the high risk brought by ramped-up voting numbers on June 9. The virus has also complicated efforts by county elections officials to process an influx of absentee ballot applications and ballots that have arrived in recent weeks.
Fulton County’s elections director, Rick Barron, noted Wednesday his office was slow to turn around ballots after a staff member died from coronavirus in early April. Barron said his office has since caught up with the application backlog amid complaints from many voters who still had not received a ballot weeks after requesting one.
“It has not gone as quickly as we had hoped,” Barron said in a virtual news conference Wednesday. “But we finally did get caught up, and we can look forward to the future and having this process go smoother.”
Speaking Thursday, Raffensperger attributed the slow processing time in Fulton to “missteps” and asked voters who have not yet received their absentee ballots to “just be patient.”
“You’ll get your ballot shortly,” he said.
To speed up ballot processing, Raffensperger said his office has sent high-speed scanners to counties to help them reduce their absentee ballot turnaround times. The scanners are part of the state’s new $104 million voting machines that will see their first large-scale statewide test on the June 9 primary.
Amid the push for mail-in voting, Raffensperger also touted Georgia’s push to keep polling places open during the early-voting period. On Thursday, he claimed the state has “maintained more in-person voting options during this pandemic than any other state in the country combined.”
“We have cut through the political rhetoric, ignored the talking heads and put you the voter first,” Raffensperger said. “We have maintained your right to choose in this election.”