Georgia may spend election relief money on drop boxes and safety gear

Dacula resident Denis Haynes Jr. uses hand sanitizer after casting his paper ballot during a special election for city council at Dacula City Hall in Dacula, Wednesday, March, 18, 2020. Haynes Jr. was running in this special race but withdrew his candidacy. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Dacula resident Denis Haynes Jr. uses hand sanitizer after casting his paper ballot during a special election for city council at Dacula City Hall in Dacula, Wednesday, March, 18, 2020. Haynes Jr. was running in this special race but withdrew his candidacy. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Georgia is slated to receive nearly $11 million in federal coronavirus relief funds for elections this year, money that could be used for protective gear, high-speed ballot scanners and absentee ballot drop boxes.

Election officials are also planning to buy sanitation supplies and equipment that can quickly determine voter intent on absentee ballots that are in question, wrote Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in a funding request letter to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. In addition, the state will reimburse counties for emergency election expenses.

“Our team is putting voters first,” said Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs. “This funding will allow us to beef up security and delivery of absentee ballots, and provide a safer in-person voting experience for voters and poll workers alike.”

The money comes from $2 trillion — including $400 million for elections — for coronavirus relief that was approved by Congress on March 26 and signed by President Donald Trump the next day. Georgia's share of the federal money must be matched by $2.1 million in state funds, bringing its total election relief amount to about $13 million.

The secretary of state's office has already spent millions of dollars to encourage remote voting in the June 9 primary, sending absentee ballot request forms to Georgia's 6.9 million active voters. That program costs over $3 million, plus between $1.88 and $2.38 per absentee ballot mailed, depending on the size of each ballot.

The State Election Board voted this month to allow counties to buy drop boxes where voters can turn in their completed absentee ballots instead of mailing them. Counties that purchase drop boxes, which must be monitored by video and located on government property, will be able to request reimbursement using the federal relief funds.

The Democratic Party of Georgia recently sent information to the state’s 159 counties urging them to buy drop boxes, which will give voters more options to ensure their votes are counted.

Drop boxes cost as little as $50 for small wood collection boxes and over $760 for large weather-proof boxes that look like U.S. Postal Service mailboxes, according to the Democratic Party. Security cameras cost about $40.

“Hopefully Georgia voters will have this extra option that will protect their health and safety,” said Saira Draper, voter protection director for the Democratic Party of Georgia.