Over 1 million Georgia voters request absentee ballots

The number of Georgia voters requesting absentee ballots crossed 1 million Thursday, a tremendous increase in people voting from home amid challenges to make polling places safe.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said voters responded to his initiative to increase absentee voting for the June 9 primary. He mailed absentee ballot request forms to Georgia's 6.9 million active voters, encouraging them to avoid voting in person at precincts during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We can now see that effort is exceeding far past our own aspirations,” Raffensperger said during a press conference outside the state Capitol. “Today we are passing the 1 million mark in absentee ballot requests. That is unprecedented.”

More than 994,000 people had returned forms requesting absentee-by-mail ballots through Wednesday, according to data from the secretary of state's office. So far, just 13,694 ballots have been returned and accepted by county election offices after they began to be mailed to voters last week.

The quick ramp-up in absentee voting during the coronavirus has created some problems.

Absentee ballot packages no longer include a white inside envelope for voters to secure their ballots because of a miscommunication between Georgia election officials and their ballot printing company, Runbeck Election Services. Instead, voters are given a folded piece of paper that doesn't protect ballot secrecy in the same way as a sealed envelope.

Ballots also list the incorrect election date because they were created before the primary was postponed to June 9. Ballots still show a May 19 election date.

Raffensperger said those issues won’t stop voters from casting their ballots.

The number of absentee ballots requested could exceed 1.5 million or even 2 million, he said. Most voters are expected to vote by mail after about 5% of voters did so in most prior elections, Raffensperger said. Georgia has allowed anyone to cast an absentee ballot without having to provide an excuse since 2005.

Voters can safeguard their ballots by taping the folded paper on three sides, which Raffensperger said makes it equivalent to the inner envelope required by state law.

In-person voting will also move forward when early voting begins May 18 and on election day, according to state law.

Raffensperger said his office has purchased 33,000 face masks that will be distributed to poll workers. In addition, counties can request federal coronavirus relief money to reimburse their protective equipment costs.

“Georgians are safer and their right to vote is protected,” Raffensperger said. “Obviously, voters have seen the need for this and responded accordingly.”

Fair Fight Action, a voting rights group founded by Democrat Stacey Abrams, criticized Raffensperger for the rollout of absentee voting and his recent creation of a task force to investigate voting fraud.

"Voters need safe mail and in-person options to vote," Fair Fight Action spokesman Seth Bringman said. "By refusing to pay for postage, intimidating voters with a sham 'fraud' task force and rejecting ballot applications based on junk science, Secretary Raffensperger is bowing to his White House overlords by making it harder to vote."

More voters have requested Republican ballots than Democratic ballots, 527,000 to 433,000, according to state data. About 33,000 voters requested nonpartisan ballots.