House Speaker Ralston wants Georgia primary delayed until summer

House Speaker David Ralston called for Georgia's presidential primary to be postponed again because of the coronavirus, saying Thursday that state legislators should weigh in before holding an election with large numbers of mailed ballots.

Ralston asked Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to move the May 19 election until at least June 23, according to a letter he sent Thursday.

Raffensperger announced this week that he plans to send absentee ballot request forms to all of Georgia's 6.9 million active voters, giving them an opportunity to vote by mail and avoid human contact at the polls. In-person voting locations will remain open for election day and three weeks of early voting.

"Pushing the primary back a month or more gives us more time to allow the situation to improve so that voters can vote in the manner in which they are most familiar," wrote Ralston, a Republican from Blue Ridge. "I realize you have developed plans to accommodate any continuing public health concerns. While I commend the goal, I respectfully submit that many of these measures deserve full and thorough legislative consideration before implementation."

Raffensperger declined to comment on Ralston’s letter.

Raffensperger, a Republican, and the Democratic Party of Georgia agreed earlier this month to delay the presidential primary from March 24 to the date of the previously scheduled general primary on May 19. Voters will choose candidates for president, the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House and the Georgia General Assembly in the combined primary.

Because it’s unclear how long the health risk of the coronavirus will last, Ralston said no election should be held until the summer.

Legislation might be needed to delay the election again. Under state law, the secretary of state can’t postpone an election more than 45 days during an emergency. The presidential primary would be delayed nearly that long before early voting resumes April 27.

The plan to ramp up absentee voting will be a significant change in Georgia’s elections. Just 6% of people mailed in their ballots during the 2018 general election, and all other voters cast their ballots either at in-person early-voting locations or at their local precincts on election day.

It’s unclear whether absentee voting favors one political party or another. Georgia has allowed no-excuse absentee voting since 2005, with any voter allowed to vote by mail.

Before this year’s presidential primary was delayed, about 55% of absentee voters cast Democratic Party ballots, which listed 12 candidates. Only President Donald Trump was listed on Republican Party ballots.

More Republican than Democratic voters, about 52%, mailed in ballots in 2018’s general primary.

When both parties had competitive presidential primaries in 2016, Republican Party voters outpaced Democrats, submitting 67% of absentee ballots.

Read Ralston's letter