Everything you need to know about voting in Georgia

Fulton County poll clerk Barbara Strickland gives Chris Bailey of Atlanta's Grant Park neighborhood his electronic voting card before he participates in September's special election in the 5th Congressional District at the polling site located at Fanplex in Atlanta's Summerhill community. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Over 5 million Georgia voters are expected to participate in this year’s general election, a record turnout despite the coronavirus pandemic.

After long lines plagued Georgia’s June primary in some areas, voters and election officials are determined to avoid a repeat.

Voters have several options to cast their ballots, all of which include health and safety precautions along with innovations to prevent delays and lines.

Absentee voting

All registered voters in Georgia are eligible to request and cast an absentee ballot for any reason. Georgia is one of two-thirds of states that allow no-excuse absentee voting under a state law passed in 2005.

What changed this year was the number of people who vote absentee. In past elections, about 5% of voters submitted absentee ballots. In this year’s primary, that number jumped to almost half of all voters as many chose to avoid the risk of the coronavirus at in-person polling places.

There’s still time to request and return an absentee ballot before the Nov. 3 election.

Voters can order an absentee ballot online at ballotrequest.sos.ga.gov, or they can mail or email a paper form to their county elections office. Absentee ballots should arrive about five to eight days after their requests are processed. Voters can also sign up to track their ballot’s progress at georgia.ballottrax.net.

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Voters should use a black or blue pen to complete their absentee ballots, fully filling in ovals. Red ink or felt tip pens should not be used.

Absentee ballots can be returned through the mail with a first-class stamp.

Ballot drop boxes have also been set up across Georgia, with no postage required. In addition, voters can deliver their absentee ballots in person at county election offices.

Absentee ballots must be received by 7 p.m. on Nov. 3 to be counted, according to a recent court ruling. Ballots delivered afterward will be rejected.

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In-person voting

Three weeks of in-person early voting begins Monday, Oct. 12, allowing voters to pick a day that fits their schedule.

Each of Georgia’s 159 counties has at least one early voting location, and there are dozens scattered around metro Atlanta. In Fulton County alone, there are more than 30 early voting sites, including State Farm Arena, the High Museum of Art and the Georgia International Convention Center in College Park.

Early voting is also available on a Saturday, on Oct. 24. Times and locations vary depending on each location’s availability.

To find early voting hours and locations for your county, visit the Secretary of State Georgia My Voter page.

Then Election Day on Nov. 3, voters can report to their regular neighborhood voting precincts, which will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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COVID-19 precautions

Voters will be spaced 6 feet apart, and only a few voters at a time will be allowed inside polling places to cast their ballots.

Poll workers will wipe down touchscreens to prevent the spread of germs, and styluses will be provided so voters don’t have to use their fingers to make their choices. Hand sanitizer will also be available.

In addition, the Home Depot donated plexiglass countertop shields for use at the state’s 2,800 polling places.

Voting machines

In-person voters will cast their ballots on Georgia’s new voting equipment, which combines touchscreens and paper ballots.

Voters will pick their candidates on touchscreens, which are connected to printers that create paper ballots. Then they can review their choices and insert their ballots into optical scanners.

The secretary of state’s office purchased $104 million worth of voting equipment from Dominion Voting Systems, introducing a paper ballot to in-person voters for the first time in 18 years.

The voting system was first used statewide in Georgia’s primary election, when some poll workers at times struggled to operate voter check-in computers and touchscreens.

During the general election, technicians will be stationed in every precinct, and poll workers have been retrained to avoid problems with activating voter access cards and maintaining power on touchscreens.

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Choosing a voting method

Voters with health risks or older voters might prefer to request absentee ballots. Other voters would rather show up in person and feed their printed ballots into scanners themselves.

If a voter requested an absentee ballot but decides to instead vote in person, they’re allowed to do so.

However, the process of switching from an absentee ballot to an in-person ballot will take a few minutes at the polling place. Voters must sign a document to cancel their absentee ballot, and poll workers have to call the county elections office to confirm that the absentee ballot hasn’t already been returned. The process takes less time if voters bring their absentee ballots with them to be canceled at the polling place.

Election Day expectations

Lines are probably unavoidable at some polling places because of such high turnout. Even if two-thirds of voters cast their ballots in advance of Election Day — either absentee or during early voting — that still could leave as many as 2 million people voting on Nov. 3.

But some of the problems from the primary are unlikely to happen again.

Increased poll worker training and tech support will minimize difficulties operating voting computers. Thousands of new poll workers have been hired. Additional voting locations have opened.

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However, it might take some time for results to come in.

With so many absentee ballots, county election officials could be counting them for days after Nov. 3. That also happened in prior years, but there were rarely enough absentees to swing election outcomes.

State law gives county election officials 10 days to certify vote counts, and then Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger finalizes results a week afterward, on Nov. 20.

Voters can review their registration information, download sample ballots, check their absentee ballot status and find voting locations on the My Voter Page at www.mvp.sos.ga.gov.

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