What you need to know to vote by mail in Georgia’s primary

Early voters lined up before the doors opened Oct. 15, 2018, at the Buckhead Library in Atlanta. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

Early voters lined up before the doors opened Oct. 15, 2018, at the Buckhead Library in Atlanta. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

With record numbers of Georgia voters planning to vote by mail, the state’s June 9 primary will be very different from prior elections.

More than 1.1 million Georgians have already requested absentee ballots so they can avoid human contact at in-person voting locations during the coronavirus pandemic.

Here are answers about how the election will work:

Q: How can I vote by mail?

A: Georgia election officials sent absentee ballot request forms to the state's 6.9 million active voters. The state's 360,000 inactive voters — those who might have moved or haven't participated in recent elections — weren't mailed absentee ballot request forms, but they're still eligible to request an absentee ballot.

Voters can return their completed absentee ballot request forms to county election officials at any time before the June 9 primary, but they should leave enough time for ballots to be mailed and returned. Ballots must be received by county election offices before polls close on election day to be counted.

Q: Where’s my ballot? I requested an absentee ballot but haven’t received it yet.

A: Absentee ballots have been mailed to most, but not all, Georgia voters who requested them. Fulton County, the state's most populous county, is backlogged with absentee ballot requests in part because the county's election office closed for two days after workers became ill with COVID-19. Election officials say they'll catch up on mailing absentee ballots soon.

Voters can check whether their ballots have been mailed, received and accepted on the state's My Voter Page at www.mvp.sos.ga.gov.

Absentee ballots, envelopes and privacy sleaves are being mailed to Georgia voters for the state's primary on June 9, 2020.

icon to expand image

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 were mailed absentee ballot request forms to encourage remote voting, and many more people plan to mail in their votes than in previous elections. About 6% of Georgia voters cast absentee ballots in the 2018 general election.

Q: What if I want to vote by mail but don’t have an absentee ballot request form?

A: Absentee ballot applications can be downloaded from the secretary of state's website at https://sos.ga.gov/index.php/Elections/absentee_voting_in_georgia. Then voters can fill out the request forms and mail, email or fax them to county election offices to be sent a ballot.

Georgia’s 6.9 million active voters are being mailed absentee ballot request forms in advance of the primary election June 9. The forms will already have voters’ names, addresses and birth dates 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.

icon to expand image

Q: Why didn’t election officials just mail absentee ballots in the first place?

A: Voters needed to request absentee ballots so election officials know whether to send them a Democratic Party, Republican Party or nonpartisan ballot. Georgia is an open primary state, meaning any voter can participate in any party's primary.

Q: Is Georgia now a vote-by-mail state?

A: State law requires in-person polling places to remain open during three weeks of early voting starting May 18 and on election day June 9. There are five states that conduct all elections by mail: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington.

Q: Can I still register to vote in time for the primary?

A: The voter registration deadline for the primary is Monday, May 11.

Q: How do election officials prevent fraud in absentee voting?

A: Election workers compare voters' signatures on absentee ballots with the signatures they used when they registered to vote. They also verify that voters filled out their information correctly and check it against voter registration records. When county election officials reject an absentee ballot, they must contact the voter by email, phone or postal mail within three business days. Voters must be contacted the next business day if absentee ballots are invalidated during the 11 days before election day. About 3% of all absentee ballots were thrown out in the 2018 general election.

Q: Why does my absentee ballot list the wrong election date?

A: Absentee ballots were created before Georgia's primary was postponed from May 19 to June 9 because of the coronavirus crisis. These ballots are valid for the June 9 primary.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger speaks during a press conference at Liberty Plaza in downtown Atlanta to announce that more than 1 million Georgia voters have requested absentee ballots for the June 9 primary. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

icon to expand image

Q: How come absentee ballots don’t come with a small envelope to seal the ballot this election? In the past, absentee ballots were placed in an inner envelope and then mailed in a larger outer envelope.

A:miscommunication between the secretary of state's office and Georgia's ballot mailing company resulted in ballots being sent to voters without inner envelopes. Instead, voters will receive a folded piece of paper, called a "secrecy sleeve," where they can place their ballots inside before inserting them inside a mailing envelope. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said voters can tape the folded paper on three sides to make it equivalent to the inner envelope.

Q: What’s on the ballot anyway? Isn’t the presidential race already decided?

A: Each party's nominee for president won't be finalized until their conventions. Democratic Party ballots in Georgia list 12 candidates, including presumptive nominee Joe Biden. Republican Party ballots list only President Donald Trump. Nonpartisan ballots exclude presidential candidates. The primary also includes many other races, including for the Georgia Supreme Court, the state Public Service Commission and county-level offices.

Q: What if I already voted in the presidential primary before it was postponed in March?

A: Nearly 289,000 people voted in Georgia's presidential primary before it was delayed and combined with the general primary, which will now be held June 9. Those presidential primary votes will be counted on election day. Voters who already participated in the presidential primary will receive ballots including all other races.

Q: Do I have to mail my absentee ballot? Is postage required?

A: A federal judge upheld Georgia's requirement for postage on mailed absentee ballots for the primary. However, the U.S. Postal Service has said it will deliver election mail even without postage. Voters can also deliver their ballots in person to county election offices. In addition, some counties are installing drop boxes where voters can insert their ballots.

Q: When will absentee ballots be counted?

A: Counties aren't allowed to tabulate absentee ballots until election day. However, the secretary of state's office is considering allowing county election officials to begin opening ballots beforehand to manage the heavy influx of paper. Election results might not be known for several days after June 9 because of the time it will take to count so many absentee ballots.