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The drop boxes will be optional for counties because some might not be prepared to install them in time for the primary. The secretary of state’s office is considering whether to use federal coronavirus relief money to help local governments pay for drop boxes.
Drop boxes can open beginning April 21, and ballots must be collected daily by election workers. Absentee ballots will be mailed to voters starting next week.
Saira Draper with the Democratic Party of Georgia said the drop boxes need to be available 24 hours a day and funded by the state government.
"If counties have the funding and guidance from the secretary of state to be able to set up drop boxes quickly, drop boxes would alleviate some of the challenges they face now," Draper said. "But without the support of the state, this option is meaningless for many counties, and voters will be the ones who suffer.”
Georgia’s drop box initiative was based on a similar provision in Utah, one of five states that primarily rely on voting by mail.
Absentee voting is expected to greatly increase in Georgia's primary as voters seek ways to participate without having to risk illness. In past elections, about 5% of Georgia voters submitted their ballots by mail.
In-person precincts must remain open on election day and during three weeks of in-person early voting, according to state law.
Each of Georgia’s 159 counties can decide whether to install one or more drop boxes, which must be monitored by video cameras for security, according to the drop box rule approved by the State Election Board.
Drop boxes can be located outside or inside. They must be securely fastened and be built with an opening slot that prevents ballot tampering, damage or removal.
“This is a very good idea,” said State Election Board member David Worley, a former chairman of the Democratic Party of Georgia. “I just think it’s the right thing to do.”
Absentee ballots will be counted if they’re received by county election offices by 7 p.m. on election day.
The State Election Board will consider later whether to allow absentee ballot drop boxes in future elections, even after the threat of the coronavirus has passed.