Politics

Democrats Request Absentee Ballot Deadline Extension In Hurricane-Hit Dougherty County

“In Dougherty County the right of Georgia voters who desire to cast absentee ballots in this year’s election is in jeopardy,” wrote state Democratic Party Chairman DuBose Porter in a letter dated Oct. 26.
“In Dougherty County the right of Georgia voters who desire to cast absentee ballots in this year’s election is in jeopardy,” wrote state Democratic Party Chairman DuBose Porter in a letter dated Oct. 26.
Credit Christina A. Cassidy / Associated Press file
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The Democratic Party of Georgia is asking Gov. Nathan Deal to order more time for Dougherty County residents to submit absentee ballots, following Hurricane Michael.

“In Dougherty County the right of Georgia voters who desire to cast absentee ballots in this year’s election is in jeopardy,” wrote party Chairman DuBose Porter in a letter dated Oct. 26.

Democrats want the absentee ballot deadline extended from the current date of 7 p.m. on Election Day to the new date of Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. Absentee ballots would need to be postmarked on Election Day. Under current rules, they must be received by county offices on Election Day.

The current timetable, Porter wrote, “does not reliably allow sufficient time for many voters to receive their ballot through the mail, to mail it back to the [Dougherty board of elections], and to have the ballot delivered” to the board of elections by the Nov. 6 deadline.

About 1,000 absentee ballot applications accumulated in the Dougherty County elections office earlier this fall, the Democrats say, thanks to a judge’s order in a local lawsuit that blocked the county from issuing absentee ballots until Oct. 5.

Hurricane Michael hit the next week. Gov. Deal declared a state of emergency in the county. And according to the Democrats’ letter, county offices were closed for three days around that time and phone and electrical issues persisted afterward.

“We understand that Dougherty County’s U.S. Mail service now is routed through Tallahassee, rather than locally, which will necessarily result in additional delays,” Porter wrote.

The Democrats credit Dougherty County elections staff for “working diligently” to process absentee ballot applications, but raised concerns some absentee ballots weren’t sent out until Monday, Oct. 29.

The last day for counties to issue or mail absentee ballots is Nov. 2, according to the Secretary of State’s website.

According to the campaign of Democrat Stacey Abrams, no absentee ballots were processed on Oct. 30 in Dougherty County, and there were 2,421 outstanding absentee ballots for voters there.

Dougherty is heavily Democratic. Hillary Clinton received 23,311 votes there in 2016, nearly 70 percent of the total cast in the county.

There was little clarity Wednesday about what would happen next in Dougherty County.

Gov. Deal’s office did not respond to questions about whether he plans to order an extension of the absentee ballot deadline.

Deal has the authority to issue executive orders in emergency situations. For example, he ordered the voter registration deadlines extended in some South Georgia counties following Hurricane Michael.

An extension of the absentee ballot deadline would be different though.

When asked, the Democrats did not provide precedent for a Georgia governor extending the absentee ballot deadline, but said the burden on election officials of such an order would be minimal.

By sending Deal the letter, the Democrats draw the outgoing Republican governor into a fight over voting access in the race between Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams that may continue past Election Day on Nov. 6.

Deal has appeared on the campaign trail with Kemp this week.

Dougherty County did not provide an election official for an interview Wednesday.

WABE’s Emma Hurt and Susanna Capelouto contributed to this report.