Heavy absentee turnout seen in Georgia primary, but obstacles remain

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said Thursday that Georgia's absentee voting process is working, with over 600,000 ballots returned so far, though many ballots are still pending as the June 9 election day approaches.

Raffensperger defended his decision to mail absentee ballot request forms to the state's 6.9 million active voters, saying it was a necessary move to ensure Georgians are able to vote remotely during the coronavirus pandemic.

"We have cut through the political rhetoric, ignored the talking heads and put you, the voter, first," Raffensperger said during a press conference at the Capitol. "If you want to vote from the safety of your home, you can. If you prefer in person, you may."

But many challenges to the primary election remain.

Ballots are still in the mail but haven't yet been received by 39,000 Fulton County voters, leaving them little time to fill them out and return them to county election offices. Fulton didn't clear its backlog of absentee ballot requests until Tuesday.

Only 40% of over 1.5 million absentee ballots requested had been received by election officials through Wednesday.

And voters who wait until election day will likely face long lines at some precincts, where the voting process will be slowed by social distancing and cleaning requirements. Voting computers will be wiped down to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“The COVID threat is still a potential threat to orderly elections and in-person voting,” Raffensperger said.

Raffensperger encouraged voters to be patient, wait for absentee ballots to arrive and then put them in the mail with enough time for them to arrive by election day.

Georgia's deadline for absentee ballots to be received by election officials is 7 p.m. June 9. Voters also have until 7 p.m. on election day to deliver their absentee ballots in drop boxes set up in many counties.

The primary could have record turnout, possibly exceeding 2 million voters. So far, 623,000 voters have submitted absentee ballots and 103,000 people have cast ballots in person at early voting locations.

In the 2016 presidential primary, over 2 million people voted, and more than 1 million voted in the general primary that year. This year's primary combined the presidential and general primaries.