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Fulton reverses course and accepts emailed absentee ballot requests

Mail-in paper ballots wait to be scanned by Fulton County employees at the Georgia World Congress Center during the Georgia primary on June 9. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Mail-in paper ballots wait to be scanned by Fulton County employees at the Georgia World Congress Center during the Georgia primary on June 9. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Election officials in Fulton County on Tuesday resumed accepting absentee ballot requests submitted by email, backtracking from a decision to require absentee applications by mail, fax or in person.

The county’s reversal came quickly after complaints that its refusal to process emailed ballot requests would reduce voting access and violate Georgia voting laws.

Fulton, the most populous county in the state, initially rejected emailed absentee ballot requests following struggles to manage a flood of applications before the June 9 primary election. Many voters in Fulton said they never received their absentee ballots, forcing them to wait in line for hours to vote in person during the coronavirus pandemic.

Voters who emailed absentee ballot requests Monday and part of Tuesday received a response from Fulton asking them to instead send paper applications by mail.

The county on Tuesday restarted processing absentee ballot requests for the Aug. 11 runoff, with some limits meant to avoid problems that surfaced before the primary.

Only one absentee ballot application may be attached to each email. Absentee ballot applications submitted by email must be less than 5 megabytes in size, legible and in pdf or jpg file format.

“We briefly paused in acceptance of email applications as we identified specific parameters in file format to ensure that we could process applications successfully,” county spokeswoman Jessica Corbitt-Dominguez said.

Fulton election officials only reversed course after the secretary of state's office told them their actions were illegal, said Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs. The secretary of state's office has said 70% of problems during the primary were concentrated in Fulton.

“Other counties do not have this level of issues with required tasks, but Fulton always seems to have an excuse as to why they can’t do what every other Georgia county can when it comes to elections,” Fuchs said Tuesday.

Fulton is reviewing additional technology options for accepting absentee ballot applications, Corbitt-Dominguez said. The county's elections task force last week recommended the creation of a website for absentee applications.

The secretary of state's office is already creating a website where voters will be able to request absentee ballots. The state's website will go live in advance of the November presidential election.

Georgia law allows voters to submit requests for absentee ballots by mail, fax, electronic transmission or in person. The secretary of state's website also states that absentee ballot applications can be returned by email.

The voting rights group Fair Fight Action called on Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to make clear that all counties in Georgia must accept absentee ballot requests by email.

“Raffensperger must step up and immediately do his job to ensure that Georgians do not have different access to democracy depending on their ZIP code,” Fair Fight Action CEO Lauren Groh-Wargo said. “He must take action, today, to compel every county in Georgia to accept applications by email.”

There’s no evidence that any other Georgia county hasn’t been accepting emailed absentee ballot applications, according to the secretary of state’s office.

It’s unknown how many absentee ballots Fulton failed to send to voters before the primary.

In some cases, the county's elections office overlooked voters' emails with more than one absentee ballot application attached. Voters said at the polls on election day they couldn't find any indication that their emailed ballot requests were ever processed.

Still, over 93,000 absentee ballots were successfully cast in Fulton, the third-most in the state, behind Cobb and DeKalb counties.

Record numbers of Georgia voters cast absentee-by-mail ballots in the June 9 primary as they avoided human contact and voted from home.

After Raffensperger mailed absentee ballot request forms statewide, over 1.15 million people voted absentee, nearly half of the 2.36 million voters who turned out for the primary.

Voters in Fulton can email their absentee ballot applications to elections.voterregistration@fultoncountyga.gov. Voters outside Fulton can find email addresses on county election office websites.

Georgia absentee ballot law

“Any absentee elector may make, either by mail, by facsimile transmission, by electronic transmission, or in person in the registrar’s or absentee ballot clerk’s office, an application for an official ballot of the elector’s precinct to be voted at such primary, election, or runoff.”

Source: O.C.G.A. § 21-2-381