Georgia primary should stay in May, say elections chief and counties

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger speaks during an emergency hearing held by the State Election Board at the Georgia Center for Continuing Education in Athens, Ga., on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. The hearing will decide whether Athens election officials broke state laws when they switched to paper ballots filled out by hand. [Photo/Austin Steele for the Atlanta Journal Constitution)
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger speaks during an emergency hearing held by the State Election Board at the Georgia Center for Continuing Education in Athens, Ga., on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. The hearing will decide whether Athens election officials broke state laws when they switched to paper ballots filled out by hand. [Photo/Austin Steele for the Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and the county governments that run elections say the May 19 Georgia presidential primary will go on as planned, resisting calls to delay it again because of the coronavirus.

The election will be held with expanded voting by mail, combined with existing in-person voting options, Raffensperger said Friday. He announced this week that every active voter in Georgia will be mailed an absentee ballot request form.

The leadership of an organization of county governments, Association County Commissioners of Georgia, voted unanimously Friday to endorse Raffensperger's approach.

“As secretary of state, I have set forth a plan that keeps the integrity of the vote, while also prioritizing the health and safety of Georgia voters,” Raffensperger said. “This is a plan county election officials, ACCG and key members of leadership support in light of the unique environment we face with COVID-19.”

Their committment to the May 19 election date comes after House Speaker David Ralston, a Republican from Blue Ridge, said it should be moved to June 23 or later.

Raffensperger already postponed the presidential primary from March 24 to May 19, the date of the previously scheduled general primary election for federal and state offices.

The desire to hold off on the election gained support Friday from DeKalb County CEO Mike Thurmond, a Democrat.

"It's extremely problematic" to move forward with the May 19 election, Thurmond said on "Political Rewind" on Georgia Public Broadcasting. "People are focused on the basics, and I hate to say it, people want to live. People are trying to figure out how to survive."

The Democratic Party of Georgia didn’t comment.

Moving the May 19 primary would likely require the General Assembly to pass a new state law. Under current law, the secretary of state can only postpone an election for 45 days during an emergency, which he already did.

Ralston acknowledged on "Political Rewind" that legislation would probably be needed to change the election date. This year's legislative session was suspended this month because of the coronavirus. It's unclear when it will resume.

A voter engagement organization, ProGeorgia, said moving the election day past May 19 is unjustified because no one knows when the public health threat of the coronavirus will be over.

“Delaying our primary again — or placing a moving target on elections — until this summer increases the risk that Georgia’s voters may not have their voices heard or their votes fully counted in enough time to participate in the Republican or Democratic national conventions this summer,” said a statement from ProGeorgia, which helps groups target and engage voters

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