Election Day absentee ballots rejected as Georgia creates voting rules

Voters line up Tuesday to ask the State Election Board to act on proposals they say would improve voter access and protect ballot integrity. MARK NIESSE / MARK.NIESSE@AJC.COM
Voters line up Tuesday to ask the State Election Board to act on proposals they say would improve voter access and protect ballot integrity. MARK NIESSE / MARK.NIESSE@AJC.COM

The State Election Board voted down a citizen petition Tuesday that would have allowed voters to deliver their absentee ballots to the polls on Election Day, but the board moved forward with several other rules for running elections with printed-out paper ballots.

One of the new rules calls for mobile ballot printers that can print absentee, provisional and back-up paper ballots on demand in each of Georgia’s 159 counties. The mobile ballot printers will prevent local election officials from running out of ballots.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, the chairman of the State Election Board, said the rules will ensure that votes are counted when the state's new $104 million voting system is rolled out to all voters during the March 24 presidential primary. The system will use touchscreens that are connected to printers that create paper ballots.

The State Election Board voted 4-0 to open a 30-day public comment period on the rules, which require voting equipment testing, voter registration application forms, ballot security, provisional ballot access and notification of voters about rejected absentee ballots within three days.

“These rules, and the verification procedures they contemplate, are critical in assuring voters that their choices will be recorded faithfully and counted accurately,” Raffensperger said.

Though the board rejected the proposal allowing voters to bring absentee ballots to their Election Day precincts, that idea could be revisited, election officials said.

Several board members said it would be too great of a change for next year’s elections, when the state is also installing the new voting machines. But they said it could be considered in 2021.

Supporters of the idea said it would allow voters to complete a hand-marked paper ballot on Election Day rather than use voting machines, and it could reduce the number of absentee ballots rejected. County election officials disqualified 7,500 absentee ballots last year, many of them in Gwinnett County, which imposed strict standards for accepting mailed ballots.

“Due to the soaring number of mail-in absentee ballots we’re expecting, we really want to prevent more rejected absentee ballots” in next year’s elections, said Cam Ashling, the chairwoman for Georgia Advancing Progress, a political action committee representing Asian American voters.

The proposal was pitched by a group of voters who say Georgia’s voting machines could be hacked or tampered with and that using paper ballots is safer.

The board also turned down proposals to position the state’s new 21.5-inch touchscreens so other voters couldn’t see them, allow counties to phase in the state’s voting system and require paper copies of voter registration lists. A similar rule that’s moving forward calls for each polling place to have a paper list of registered voters.

Other rules governing recounts and audits of paper ballots will be considered by the State Election Board at a future meeting.