SOS: Ga. elections officials overwhelmed by 3 parallel elections

SOS: Ga. elections officials overwhelmed by 3 parallel elections
No-excuse absentee ballot voting was passed by the Georgia legislature in 2005. Lee County voting machines (Source: WALB)

ATLANTA, Ga. (WALB) - For the upcoming General Assembly, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and County Election Officials are calling for reform of the ‘no excuse’ absentee ballot request rule to allow Georgia’s officials to effectively run elections.

Georgia currently requires strained county elections officials to hold three weeks of early, in-person voting, election day voting, and unfettered, no-excuse absentee ballot voting, which strains county resources and budgets, the secretary said.

“In light of the past few months and the overwhelming amount of paper absentee ballots that have been requested, processed and counted, the Georgia Association of Voter Registration and Election Officials would support legislation that would require all applicants to provide a reason to receive an absentee ballot by mail,” said Paulding County Elections and Registration Supervisor Deidre Holden. “It would also help with the expense on a county budget due to the extreme cost incurred in the processing of a ballot from beginning to end.”

“Reforming Georgia’s absentee ballot request process to only those who have a specific need would take a large burden off of the overwhelmed elections officials here in Lowndes County and across the state,” said Lowndes County Elections Director Deb Cox.

Lowndes County Supervisor of Elections, Deb Cox
Lowndes County Supervisor of Elections, Deb Cox (Source: WALB)

“Asking county elections officials to hold no-excuse absentee ballot voting in addition to three weeks of early, in-person voting, and election day voting is too much to manage,” said Secretary Raffensperger. “The way Georgia’s election system is set up under the law, county elections officials are essentially required to run three elections simultaneously, one each for a population that wants to vote a different way. Until COVID-19, absentee ballot voters were mostly those who needed to cast absentee ballots. For the sake of our resource stretched and overwhelmed elections officials, we need to reform our absentee ballot system.”

No-excuse absentee ballot voting was passed by the Georgia legislature in 2005 and signed into law by then-Governor Sonny Perdue. For years, the provision was used by between 5% and 7% of Georgia voters, with maximum absentee ballot turnout lower than 300,000 total ballots cast. Such a small percentage of absentee ballots was difficult but manageable for county officials.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger

As COVID-19 hit Georgia and the country, county elections officials had to deal with an overwhelming surge in absentee ballot voting. The problems caused by the surge in absentee ballots contributed to the long lines seen during the June primaries. Voters who were able to vote in person but requested absentee ballots anyway showed up at the polls to vote in person but still had to cancel their requested ballots. This further slowed down voting lines.

Under current law, Georgia’s county elections officials are effectively tasked with running three parallel elections: early, in-person voting; no-excuse absentee by mail voting; and election day voting. The set up requires elections officials to split their focus, energy, and resources between the three different populations who cast ballots in different ways.

Before COVID-19 hit, many of those who took advantage of no-excuse absentee ballot voting did in fact have a good reason to cast a ballot absentee by mail. As COVID-19 hit, individuals who were able to cast ballots in person nonetheless opted to cast a ballot by mail instead. This dramatically increased the burden on county elections officials who now have to process more than one million absentee ballots.

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