Coronavirus, Politics

Georgia’s May Primary Is Still On For Now, But What Happens If State of Emergency is Extended?

The Secretary of State's office sent out absentee ballot application to all 6.9 active voters in the state, hoping to encourage mail-in voting.
The Secretary of State's office sent out absentee ballot application to all 6.9 active voters in the state, hoping to encourage mail-in voting.
Credit Emil Moffatt / WABE
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Preparations continue for Georgia’s May 19 primary elections, despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but there’s still a possibility Election Day may be pushed back.

Gov. Brian Kemp’s office says it’s up to the Secretary of State to postpone an election during a state of emergency.

The current public health emergency declaration only lasts through April 13. Early voting doesn’t begin until two weeks later on April 27.

And that’s where the Secretary of State’s office runs into a roadblock in postponing the election, said Matt Mashburn a member of the State Election Board.

“The preconditions are not in place yet, for example, you’d have to have the governor declare a new emergency that included that time period, which the current one doesn’t,” Mashburn said.

And if that happens, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said in a Facebook post he would “reevaluate the situation.”

Absentee Ballot Applications Arrive

As this all unfolds, millions of absentee ballot applications for May are arriving in mailboxes across the state. Raffensperger said in an interview with WABE’s Jim Burress last week that it’s too soon to tell how many voters will return that application requesting an absentee ballot.

Historically, Raffensperger said, about 7% of ballots are cast in an election by mail. But with worries about the spread of the coronavirus, that may limit in-person voting.

Poll Workers For In-Person Voting

There’s also a concern if the May 19 election moves forward about the availability of enough poll workers to staff polling places. It’s a subject that Cindy Battles with the voting rights group Common Cause is keeping track of.

“We have talked to a number of county officials who are concerned with making sure they have enough poll workers,” said Battles. “But we haven’t talked to anyone who believes that they’re going to be so short of staff that they’re going to have to close or consolidate polling locations.”

“Obviously if something like that happens, we would have to look at the legal ramifications and the possibility of filing lawsuits, but right now, that is not something that we foresee happening,” said Battles.

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