Ask Mark: Answers about early and absentee voting in Georgia

How voting works in Georgia’s 2022 elections

As each day of early voting in Georgia breaks another midterm turnout record, voters often have questions about how elections are run.

Voters submitted questions to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and here are some answers from Mark Niesse, who covers elections, democracy and voting rights.

If you have a question for Mark, please fill out the form below. We’ll publish the answers in a regular feature leading up to the election.

Q: On my absentee ballot, and on the sample ballot on the secretary of state’s website, the Republican candidates are always listed first, regardless of alphabetical order or incumbency. Why is the Republican candidate at the top of each race?

A: Under Georgia law, candidates in the governor’s political party have been listed first on Georgia general election ballots since 1964, when Democratic Gov. Carl Sanders was in office.

A federal lawsuit alleged that Republicans’ top billing gave them an advantage of about 4.2 percentage points on average, but a judge ruled against that claim in 2020. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta has upheld the constitutionality of a similar ballot order law in Florida.

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Q: I’m currently in line to vote, and they’re making us fill out these absentee ballot forms for early voting. Was that always required to vote early, or is this one of the changes from the new law?

A: Voters have always been required to turn in paperwork for in-person early voting because, under state law, it’s considered a form of absentee voting that requires an application. But the early voting process has changed this year in some counties.

Several counties, including Fulton County, previously used a system called EasyVote, which streamlined the voter check-in process by printing out pre-filled voting applications when they arrived at the polls instead of making voters complete paperwork by hand.

This year, fewer counties are using EasyVote, in part because it’s not integrated with the state’s voter registration system. EasyVote, which is based in Woodstock, also suffered a data breach earlier this year that exposed registration information on the internet.

Seventeen counties across Georgia, including Cobb County in metro Atlanta, are testing a new check-in system this year that doesn’t require voters to fill out a ballot application form. Instead, poll workers enter voters’ registration information electronically, a process similar to Election Day.

ExploreAsk Mark: Sample ballots, absentee requests and out-of-state voters

Q: Is there a document that compares the positions of Democratic candidates to Republican candidates on key issues? Can you break down the four questions that will be on the ballot this November and explain what exactly they mean?

A: The AJC and Atlanta Civic Circle have published a voter guide that compares where each candidate stands on Georgia’s most pressing issues, including the economy, crime, abortion and the role of government. The voter guide can be found online at www.ajc.com/voter-guide.

Besides voting on candidates, voters are also being asked to approve two amendments to the Georgia Constitution and two state laws. These ballot questions deal with whether indicted elected officials should continue to receive a paycheck, tax relief after natural disasters, a tax break for timber production, and a tax benefit for family-owned farms.

Q: I’m over 65 and signed up to vote absentee for this entire election cycle. Am I allowed to change my mind and vote early in person for the general election, or am I now committed to vote absentee in the general election?

A: Voters are allowed to change their mind at any time before their ballot is accepted by their county’s elections office.

Voters who previously requested an absentee ballot can bring it to a polling place, ask a poll worker to cancel it, then vote in person.

Voters who lost their absentee ballot — or if it never arrived in the mail — have a couple of options. They can request a new absentee ballot before Georgia’s Oct. 29 ballot request deadline, or they can show up at an early or Election Day voting location. Then poll workers would contact the county elections office to cancel the absentee ballot, allowing voters to instead cast an in-person ballot.