Fulton: You can now apply to vote by mail in November 2021 election

Some 70 Fulton County Registration & Election Board workers handled some 20,000 absentee ballots on Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020 at State Farm Arena located at 1 State Farm Drive in Atlanta. (JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Some 70 Fulton County Registration & Election Board workers handled some 20,000 absentee ballots on Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020 at State Farm Arena located at 1 State Farm Drive in Atlanta. (JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM)

Those who want to vote from their kitchen table or elsewhere in the Nov. 2 election can now apply to do so.

Fulton County — the state’s most populous, which had significant trouble with absentee ballots last year — is now accepting applications for absentee-by-mail ballots.

The ballots will include city races, like the Atlanta mayoral contest for roughly half of Fulton residents, along with countywide votes about transportation and education special purpose local option sales taxes.

More than 525,000 of Fulton’s 805,000 registered voters cast presidential ballots in the November race, according to state data. Now, the county now has more than 820,000 active voters.

About a quarter of Georgia’s 5 million voters in November selected their choice for President using absentee ballots, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has reported. Elected officials started talking about the once-small system of mail-in votes, and it became politicized — about 34% of Biden voters submitted absentee ballots statewide compared to 18% of Trump voters. Biden won Georgia by 12,000 votes.

Fulton’s absentee ballots got so contentious that there was a lawsuit that sought to scrutinize 147,000 of them after Republicans said they suspected counterfeit votes during a manual recount of the November results.

A judge dismissed most of that lawsuit in June, but the case continues against individual members of the county elections board.

The GOP-led General Assembly passed Senate Bill 202 months after the election. Part of bill’s 98 pages includes portions that make it harder to cast an absentee ballot. Voters will need to submit a driver’s license number, state ID number or other documentation when both requesting and returning absentee ballots — the new ID requirements replaces signature verification.

But critics argue this will make it more difficult for the 3% of registered Georgia voters without an ID number associated with their registration information.

In addition, the window to request absentee ballots starts later and ends earlier. Before, voters could request absentee ballots within a 180-day period. Now, it is 78 days.

Also, voters must return an absentee ballot application 11 days before election day. Before, voters could request absentee ballots until the Friday before an election.

According to the AJC, about 52% of absentee ballots requested in the last 11 days before the November election were returned, compared with 75% of ballots requested beforehand.

The mass mailings of absentee ballot request forms have also been restricted, as many voters complained about being confused by receiving multiple applications despite having already submitted one. Organizations now face a $100 fine for each duplicate processed.

The county struggled in June with getting mail-in ballots to voters on time. Hundreds of people never received the absentee ballots they requested. State officials blame Fulton staff.

Fulton officials say Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger sending absentee ballot request forms to the state’s 6.9 million active voters as the COVID-19 pandemic ramped up caused an increase of six times the applications compared to the 2018 general election.

Staff printed out 80,000 emailed absentee ballot applications and manually entered them into computers, which officials admit was an inefficient practice. In addition, email inboxes reached their storage limits and printers broke down.

Because of all that, some applications were never processed and some voters never received mail-in ballots.

Since then, Fulton’s elections leaders say they have streamlined the process and brought on more staff to help manage mail-in ballots.

A Fulton County elections workers prepares absentee ballots for counting during the county's second recount of Presidential Election Day ballots at the Georgia World Congress Center, Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

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Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Though the state will not have a portal for the November elections, the county has a portal.

To complete the absentee ballot application, voters will need: name and date of the election, their name, their registered address, their registered address, their date of birth, their signature, their driver’s license number or Georgia ID number.

Proper absentee ballot applications may also be returned by email to elections.voterregistration@fultoncountyga.gov or through the mail to Fulton County Department of Registrations and Elections, 130 Peachtree St., Suite 2186, in Atlanta or by hand at that address.

Applications are due by Friday, Oct. 22, 2021.

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