Voters mailed absentee ballot request forms for May 19 Georgia primary

Elections Coordinator Shantell Black (left) and Elections Deputy Director Kristi Royston open and scan absentee ballots on Wednesday morning, Nov. 7, 2018 at the Voter Registration and Elections Office in Lawrenceville. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

Elections Coordinator Shantell Black (left) and Elections Deputy Director Kristi Royston open and scan absentee ballots on Wednesday morning, Nov. 7, 2018 at the Voter Registration and Elections Office in Lawrenceville. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

Georgia election officials began mailing absentee ballot request forms Monday to the state’s 6.9 million active voters, making it easier for them to vote without having to show up in person.

Voters who fill out and return the request forms will then be mailed a ballot for the May 19 primary, which includes candidates for president, Congress, the Georgia General Assembly and county offices.

The mass mailing of absentee ballot request forms is an effort by Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to encourage remote voting during the coronavirus pandemic. Georgia voters will also have the option of voting in person on election day and during three weeks of early voting starting April 27.

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Absentee ballot request forms will continue to be mailed through this week. Once voters return the forms to county election offices, ballots will be sent beginning the week of April 20.

Here are a few things to know:

Q: Is absentee-by-mail a new way of voting in Georgia?

A: Georgia has allowed anyone to request an absentee ballot without providing an excuse since 2005. What's different in this year's primary election is that voters will be mailed absentee ballot request forms so that voters don't have to print them out.

By encouraging absentee voting, many more people are likely to mail in their ballots than in previous elections. About 6% of Georgia voters cast absentee ballots in the 2018 general election.

Q: What will the absentee ballot request form and absentee ballot look like?

A: Absentee ballot request forms will be pre-filled with each voter's name, address and voter registration number. Voters need to check off whether they want a Democratic, Republican or nonpartisan ballot. Georgia is an open primary state, meaning voters can choose to participate in either party's election without having to register with a party. Voters also need to sign their absentee ballot request forms.

Georgia’s 6.9 million active voters are being mailed absentee ballot request forms in advance of the primary election May 19. The forms will already have voters’ names, addresses and birthdates filled in. Voters will need to select which party’s ballot they want, sign the form and return it to their county’s election office.

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Then election officials will mail ballots that match voters’ districts and chosen party.

Q: What races will be on the ballot?

A: All voters will be able to choose candidates for the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House, the Georgia General Assembly and local races.

The presidential primary will also be listed for voters who didn't already cast ballots during early voting before the election was postponed March 14.

There are 12 presidential candidates on Democratic Party ballots and one candidate, President Donald Trump, on Republican Party ballots. Nonpartisan ballots don’t include presidential candidates in primary elections.

Ballots that were cast before the presidential primary was postponed will be counted May 19 along with other ballots.

Q: What are the steps in the absentee voting process?

A: Absentee ballot request forms are being mailed statewide this week by R.R. Donnelley, a Chicago-based communications and printing company hired by the Georgia secretary of state's office. After voters select their political party and sign their name, they can mail the form to the county election office's address printed on the form.

Then county election workers will process the requests, and the secretary of state's office will send them to another company, Arizona-based Runbeck Election Services, which will be responsible for mailing absentee ballots to voters.

Once received, voters can fill out their ballots and mail them to their county election offices. Ballots will be stored until election day on May 19, when counties will open and count them.

Q: Do voters have to pay for postage?

A: Absentee ballot request forms can be returned by mail with a 55-cent stamp, or they can be emailed to county election offices.

Voters are allowed to take a cellphone photo or scan their completed absentee ballot request forms. Email addresses of county election offices will be listed on absentee ballot request forms. Pictures of absentee request forms need to be clear enough for election officials to read. Otherwise, they won’t be accepted.

Once voters complete their absentee ballots, those must be mailed or returned in person to county election offices. Emailed ballots aren’t valid.

Q: How much will this absentee ballot process cost taxpayer??

A: The secretary of state's office will use federal funds to pay R.R. Donnelley $480,000 to print absentee ballot request forms for Georgia's 6.9 million active voters. The cost of mailing the request forms to voters is $2.6 million.

It will cost between $1.88 and $2.38 per absentee ballot mailed by Runbeck Election Services, a subcontractor for Georgia’s voting company, Dominion Voting Systems. The cost varies based on the size of different ballots across the state.

Q: Can absentee ballot request forms and absentee ballots be rejected?

A: Voters' signatures must match the signatures on file. County election officials will compare voters' signatures with the signatures they used when they registered.

County election officials must contact voters whose ballots were rejected within three business days. Voters have three days after election day to correct issues with an absentee ballot, according to a state law passed last year.

There were 8,157 rejected absentee ballots in the November 2018 election, about 3% of all absentee ballots returned by mail.

Q: What if I never receive an absentee ballot request form?

A: All active voters in Georgia should receive their absentee ballot request forms by April 10.

Absentee ballot request forms can still be downloaded from the secretary of state's website. Absentee ballots will be counted if they're received by county election officials by the end of voting on election day May 19.

Q: Can I still register to vote?

A: The voter registration deadline for the May 19 election is April 20.