The Georgia State Election Board has extended emergency rules for ballot drop boxes and earlier processing of absentee ballots.
The extension is for six months, meaning the rules will apply to the August runoff and November general election.
Counties will be able to continue using drop boxes that were installed for the June primaries. And they’ll be able to start counting absentee ballots eight days prior to election day. No tabulation of votes can occur until election day.
More than 1.1 million Georgians cast absentee ballots for the June primaries.
The vote to extend the emergency rules was unanimous, but elsewhere in Wednesday’s board meeting, members disagreed on whether Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger should send all active voters in the state an absentee ballot application as he did this spring.
Last week, the House Governmental Affairs Committee added an amendment that would prohibit the state or counties from sending out unsolicited ballot applications. But the bill never got a vote in either chamber before the legislature adjourned for the year last Friday night.
Board member David Worley encouraged Raffensperger to send the applications again.
“As the secretary noted, we may have three times as many people wanting to vote in November as voted in the primary,” said Worley. “If we do not have a very robust absentee ballot program, we will see an absolute disaster in the poll in November.”
But fellow board member Matthew Mashburn said it would cost too much to mail millions of applications again as the state continues to tighten its belt amid the coronavirus pandemic and accompanying recession.
“I agree with the secretary’s idea to move this online,” said Mashburn. “And people who want to use the mail and can still use the mail, but people who want to register online can do that.”
Critics say not mailing applications would make it harder for those without internet access to request an absentee ballot.
The secretary of state’s office has announced a plan to set up an online portal to handle electronic requests, but it’s not clear when the portal will be up and running.
Fulton County, which processed some 140,000 absentee ballot requests for the primaries, struggled at times to deal with a backlog of requests. But the county, hoping to encourage vote-by-mail in August and November, plans to set up an online portal of its own and is considering mailing out absentee ballot applications to its voters.