ATLANTA – Georgia election officials have sent out around 700,000 absentee ballots so far for the upcoming June 9 primary election amid ongoing concerns over coronavirus.

The ballots stemmed from more than 1 million requests from voters to date to receive absentee ballots, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said at a news conference Thursday. His office expects to field even more absentee-ballot requests in the coming weeks.

“We don’t know what it will be,” Raffensperger said. “But we don’t think we’re done yet with 39 days left to go.”

Absentee voting for the primary is poised to greatly outpace prior big-ticket elections in Georgia. For instance, voters cast roughly 223,000 absentee ballots in the high-turnout 2018 gubernatorial election, while about 207,000 absentee ballots were cast in Georgia in the 2016 presidential election.

The swell in absentee voting follows Raffensperger’s decision in late March to send absentee ballot request forms to all of Georgia’s nearly 7 million registered voters as concerns mounted over the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel strain of coronavirus that sparked a global pandemic.

Raffensperger has said the push for absentee ballots aims to curb in-person voting on Election Day and limit the chances for the virus to spread between voters and poll workers, who tend to be older adults more at risk from the harmful effects of COVID-19.

On top of the broader mail-in effort, the State Election Board recently allowed county election officials to install drop-off boxes for voters to hand in their absentee ballots rather than mail them.

Raffensperger’s office has also organized a group of local district attorneys, solicitors general and county election officials to help investigators track down potential instances of absentee fraud in the primary.

“We want a strong, robust, accurate, secure absentee ballot program so both sides of the aisle feel that they know that no one’s right has been diminished,” Raffensperger said Thursday.

Several observers including Georgia Democratic Party leaders have slammed the absentee fraud-detection group, likening it to voter intimidation.

Meanwhile, voter-protection groups and local elected officials have watched Raffensperger’s roll-out of the expanded absentee program with a mix of trepidation and praise. They have called for absentee voting to be expanded beyond the June 9 primary for the remainder of this year’s elections.

Some Democratic state lawmakers have said they are seeing confusion among voters as they submit absentee ballot request forms and receive ballots. Rep. Park Cannon, D-Atlanta, said last week she is conducting a survey to assess voters’ experience with the vote-by-mail process.

“What we know is that we are still gaining information on how Georgians are responding to the changes on the final decision on voting in Georgia,” Cannon said. “It is very important that we gain the public’s trust in the final decisions made on voting.”