DeKalb may send absentee ballot applications to voters for November

Absentee ballots, envelopes and privacy sleaves are being mailed to Georgia voters for the state's primary on June 9, 2020.

Absentee ballots, envelopes and privacy sleaves are being mailed to Georgia voters for the state's primary on June 9, 2020.

DeKalb County may mail absentee ballot applications to all registered voters ahead of November’s general election.

DeKalb’s elections board discussed the measure during a Thursday night meeting but is awaiting word from the county’s Board of Commissioners on funding for the effort, vice chair Baoky Vu said. The cost of sending applications to DeKalb’s 530,000 or so registered voters would likely run a few hundred thousand dollars.

Georgia's secretary of state sent vote-by-mail applications to voters across the state ahead of last month's primary but has said he won't repeat the effort this fall.

“If the county commission supports us and actually prints the money for us, then I don’t see why not,” Vu said.

DeKalb County processed more than 100,000 absentee ballots for the June primary, more than all advance and in-person election day voting combined. The vote-by-mail turnout could be even higher this fall, with interest in the presidential election high and the coronavirus pandemic showing no signs of ending.

During Thursday's hours-long meeting, DeKalb's elections board also approved most of a "three-month implementation plan" recommended by a stakeholders working group.

The plan, based in part on recommendations made by a team of outside consultants, includes hiring a communications director to improve voter outreach and making efforts to increase security; add advance voting locations and hours; and streamline the voter registration process.

It also includes hiring a project manager to conduct a thorough review of “system failures” that occurred during June’s problem-plagued primary. Like other counties across Georgia, DeKalb has widespread issues getting the state’s new voting system up and running on election day, exacerbating the long lines that were already expected due to a shortage of experienced poll workers and coronavirus-related accommodations.

Some members of the elections board and elections director Erica Hamilton pushed back on other tenants of the plan, particularly the recommendation to hire a consultant to look at the county’s absentee ballot process.

Hamilton said the state mandates how absentee ballots must be processed and that more manpower, more equipment and better technology — all things she’s already working on — are the solution.

“When we get a ballot in, everyone knows what they're doing,” Hamilton said.

The consultant item was removed from Thursday’s vote but may be considered again next week.