Groups mass mail absentee ballot applications to Georgia voters

Mail-in paper ballots wait to be scanned by Fulton County employees at the Georgia World Congress Center during the Georgia primary on June 9. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Mail-in paper ballots wait to be scanned by Fulton County employees at the Georgia World Congress Center during the Georgia primary on June 9. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Over 2.2 million absentee ballot application forms were recently mailed to Georgia voters, an unofficial solicitation from organizations encouraging absentee voting.

The letters contain absentee ballot application forms, pre-filled with voters’ names and addresses. They come from a pair of nonprofit organizations, the Center for Voter Information and the Voter Participation Center.

The organizations sent the mailings primarily to people of color, unmarried women and young people, said Tom Lopach, the president and CEO of both nonprofits. They also targeted mailings to voters by geographic area based on nonpartisan data sources and public voter registration lists, he said.

“They have a right to vote, they’ve signed up to vote, and we should do anything we can to help them vote,” Lopach said.

But election officials say voters should manage their own decisions to vote by absentee ballot, without depending on a third-party group.

“There are many special-interest groups around the country who are targeting key voters for absentee ballot applications,” Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs said. “Most simply want to help you. Others may aim to confuse you — or worse, steal your private information.”

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger sent mailed absentee ballot applications to 6.9 million active voters ahead of the June primary election, helping them vote from home during the coronavirus pandemic.

But for this fall’s general election, Raffensperger replaced that mailing program with a website where voters will soon be able to request absentee ballots.

The website is scheduled to launch within days, and then voters who sign up to receive absentee ballots will be mailed to them starting Sept. 20.

Groups such as the Center for Voter Information and the Voter Participation Center have mailed over 2.2 million pre-filled absentee ballot application forms to Georgia voters.
Groups such as the Center for Voter Information and the Voter Participation Center have mailed over 2.2 million pre-filled absentee ballot application forms to Georgia voters.

So far, 104,000 voters reached by the Center for Voter Information and Voter Participation Center have returned their postage-paid absentee ballot request forms to county election offices, according to postal tracking information, Lopach said.

Voters in states such as Georgia, where the government isn’t mailing absentee ballot applications, are receiving more mail from the organizations. About 70 million absentee ballot request forms are being sent by the groups nationwide.

Lee-Ann Williams, a Doraville resident, said she was concerned when she received the absentee ballot application from the Center for Voter Information because it excluded the hyphen in her first name.

“That triggered a feeling that this could screw up my ballot,” Williams said. “I didn’t ascribe anything nefarious to it. I’m all for it if it’s accurate.”

She threw away the mailing and instead filled out her own absentee application.

Some voters will receive multiple absentee ballot request forms, but only one ballot can be issued per voter. Election officials will discard duplicate absentee requests.

The organizations plan to mail second and third waves of absentee ballot request forms to some voters who don’t sign up to receive an absentee ballot, Lopach said.

In addition, DeKalb County might mail absentee ballot request forms to the county’s over 555,000 registered voters.

Georgia law allows any registered voter to use an absentee ballot. Over 1.15 million voters cast absentee ballots in the June 9 primary, nearly half of total turnout.

Voters can request an absentee ballot themselves by downloading and filling out an absentee request form from the secretary of state’s website, then mailing it to their county’s elections office. Voters can also return the form sent to them by the CVI or VPC.

The state’s absentee ballot request form website will eliminate the need to print and mail a paper form. It’s scheduled to go online before the end of August.

In Other News