Online absentee ballot applications approved for Georgia voters

The State Election Board approved a plan Monday to allow Georgia voters to request absentee ballots by going online. From left: State Election Board members Anh Le, Rebecca Sullivan, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and David Worley. MARK NIESSE / MARK.NIESSE@AJC.COM
The State Election Board approved a plan Monday to allow Georgia voters to request absentee ballots by going online. From left: State Election Board members Anh Le, Rebecca Sullivan, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and David Worley. MARK NIESSE / MARK.NIESSE@AJC.COM

Credit: Mark Niesse

Credit: Mark Niesse

Georgia voters will soon be able to go online to order an absentee ballot for the November presidential election, according to a rule the State Election Board approved Monday.

The board voted unanimously to create the absentee ballot application website, which is planned to go live by the end of this month.

The website will help voters participate in this year’s presidential election without having to visit a polling place during the coronavirus pandemic.

Voting from home became popular in Georgia’s primary, when nearly half of voters cast absentee ballots. The trend continued in advance of Tuesday’s runoffs, with 60% of early voters submitting absentee ballots through Sunday.

“We need to get this out there, get this system online and go live so that the voters of Georgia can access it,” State Election Board member Anh Le said.

The online absentee ballot application process will avoid some of the problems seen during Georgia’s primary, when some voters who emailed absentee ballot request forms never received their ballots. Through the website, election officials are less likely to overlook paper or email applications.

Georgia law has allowed any voter to request an absentee ballot since 2005, but before this year, that method of voting was generally used by only about 5% of voters in each election.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger encouraged absentee voting before the primary election, mailing absentee ballot applications to Georgia’s 6.9 million active voters. Over 1.1 million people voted absentee in the primary.

Citing the program’s cost, Raffensperger has said he won’t conduct a similar mass mailing of absentee ballot request forms for the general election, replacing that program with the upcoming website. In addition to the website, voters will still have the option to print out and mail paper absentee ballot requests.

State Election Board member David Worley supported the website but said Raffensperger should mail absentee ballot applications as well.

“As long as we have the pandemic and the outbreak that is continuing in this state, we’re going to face some very serious problems in November with conducting the election,” Worley said. “The secretary was very correct in mailing out absentee ballot applications to every Georgian prior to the primary election. It will only become clearer as we get closer to the November general election how necessary that is.”

Voters will be able to request absentee ballots through the website by typing in their name, birth date, and driver’s license or state identification card number, according to the new State Election Board rule. Then ballots will begin to be mailed Sept. 15.

The website will be used to request an absentee ballot, but no voting will occur online.

The State Election Board also approved a separate rule that permits county election officials to begin opening absentee ballots two weeks before election day, which is one week earlier than previously allowed.

The board crafted the rule to give election officials a head start on the time-consuming process of verifying and scanning so many mailed paper ballots, which could delay election results. However, no votes will be allowed to be tabulated by election computers until after polls close on Election Day.

Georgia voters will head to the polls Tuesday for primary runoff elections, including races for the U.S. House, Georgia General Assembly and district attorney offices. Then the presidential election will be held Nov. 3.