Georgia to mail out 323,000 new absentee ballot request forms

Thousands of Georgia voters may not have gotten the absentee ballot request forms the secretary of state’s office sent out recently for the June 9 primary.

Gabriel Sterling, the implementation manager for the state’s voting system, said the secretary of state’s office will soon mail new request forms to about 323,000 voters.

Elections officials initially mailed out the forms last month to active voters, encouraging them to avoid human contact at precincts. Voters receiving the forms can fill them out, mail them back in and get an absentee ballot.

The ballot request forms were initially mailed to every active voter’s residential address several weeks ago. However, some voters with P.O. boxes or those whose mailing addresses differed from their residential addresses did not receive the ballot requests because they were not sent to P.O. boxes.

Pickens County resident Ellen Harrison is one of the voters that did not receive her absentee ballot request form.

“Voting has always been very important to me — and now, more than ever, with COVID-19 putting poll workers in jeopardy, or shelter-in-place orders closing polls, I didn’t want to risk my vote going forfeit,” she said.

Election officials needed to mail request forms quickly when the primary was still scheduled for May 19. That resulted in errors that could have been caught if the secretary of state’s office had a couple of more days to verify addresses, Sterling said.

The primary has now been rescheduled for June 9.

“We chose the option that got to 95% of all Georgia voters. We were using our best judgment to get it to everybody,” Sterling said. “We didn’t want to make the perfect the enemy of the good, especially given our time constraints.”

Before mailing the absentee ballot request forms, the secretary of state’s office used a system from the U.S. Postal Service that showed a tiny fraction of a percent were undeliverable addresses, Sterling said.

But the Postal Service’s system didn’t reflect the reality of how local postmasters operate.

Local elections officials found themselves needing to correct this error in the weeks after the absentee ballot request forms were initially sent out.

Hall County had about 2,000 request forms that were unable to be delivered to the voters, said Katie Crumley, a spokeswoman for the county.

“So far, our staff has been able to correct and send 150 of those returned requests. A little over 300 of the mailings returned are addressed to a voter who no longer resides in Hall County, is now deceased, etc.,” she said. “In the meantime, staff is continuing to work diligently to reach every registered voter ahead of the upcoming election.”

Dawson, Franklin and Habersham counties also reported complaints that some voters did not receive their absentee ballot requests, and that the county election officials had to resend some ballots.

New absentee ballot request forms will be sent soon, but Sterling couldn’t provide a specific date. He said voters will receive them well before the June 9 primary.