Coronavirus, Politics

Georgia Pushes Primary Election To June Amid Pandemic

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has pushed back the states May 19 election.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has pushed back the states May 19 election.
Credit Russ Bynum / Associated Press
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Updated at 4:14 p.m. Thursday

Georgia’s Secretary of State has postponed the May primaries until June 9 because of concerns over the coronavirus.

Early voting will now take place between May 18 and June 5 for both the presidential preference primary and state and local races with potential runoffs on Aug. 11.

In recent weeks, several high profile Republicans including House Speaker David Ralston and Georgia’s U.S. Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler had urged Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to delay the election because of the pandemic.

Raffensperger maintained he didn’t have the legal authority to change the election because, at the time, the elections period wasn’t included under the state of public health emergency. But that emergency declaration was extended through May 13 by Gov. Brian Kemp on Wednesday.

“I am now comfortable exercising the authority vested in me by Georgia law to postpone the primary election until June 9,” Secretary Raffensperger said. “This decision allows our office and county election officials to continue to put in place contingency plans to ensure that voting can be safe and secure when in-person voting begins and prioritizes the health and safety of voters, county election officials, and poll workers.”

The Secretary of State’s office had been urging Georgians to vote by mail. It sent absentee ballot applications to all 6.9 million active voters in late March. Both absentee voting and in-person voting will be available for the June 9 primaries.

The state’s presidential primary had originally be set for March, but was pushed back to May to join the already scheduled state and local primaries. Now both will take place in June.

Speaker Ralston released a pointed statement Thursday.

“I appreciate the Secretary of State finally using his statutory authority — which he has had all along — to delay the primary election in the interest of public health and safety,” said Ralston.

Ralston has been critical of the move to send mail-in ballots to all Georgia voters, alleging that it would lead to voter fraud.

“This is not about opposition to absentee ballots,” said Ralston. “In fact, I encourage people to reach out directly to their county election office to request an absentee ballot as they have done for years.”

Ralston complained that Raffensperger wasted “millions of taxpayer dollars on snap, systemic changes in our absentee ballot process.”

But Georgia Democrats say the state hasn’t spent enough money. The party continue to push for Georgia to make it easier to vote by mail, saying there’s no certainty that conditions surrounding the coronavirus pandemic will improve by June 9.

“The Secretary of State’s preliminary steps to expand Georgia’s preexisting vote-by-mail program are insufficient,” said Saira Draper, who is the director of voter protection for Georgia Democrats.

“Delaying Georgia’s election does not ensure either public safety or Georgians’ right to vote without the Secretary of State taking further action to make vote by mail truly accessible for all Georgians — that means providing paid postage, counting all ballots postmarked by Election Day and mailing vote-by-mail ballots to all registered voters, not just some,” said Draper.

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