Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announces a milestone in absentee voting for the June 9 primary.
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Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announces a milestone in absentee voting for the June 9 primary.

More than 1 million Georgia voters have requested an absentee ballot for the June 9 presidential and general primary election, a drastic shift in voting behavior amid concerns for safety at the polls.

As of last night, county elections offices have processed over 999,000 applications from registered voters, with around 100,000 still waiting to be entered in Fulton County alone.

Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger called it a “historic, record-setting moment” as voters and officials try to navigate elections during a public health emergency.

His office mailed more than 6.9 million absentee applications to the state’s active registered voters using a third-party vendor, and the surge of returned applications is evidence the decision paid off, he said.

 

“Now we can see that effort is exceeding far past our own aspirations,” he said. “This is unprecedented.”

 

The interest in absentee voting for this election is nearly five times the vote-by-mail turnout for the 2018 gubernatorial election, where Democrat Stacey Abrams made a push for absentee ballots a central part of her campaign.

650,000 ballots have already been placed in the mail to voters, though not without issues. Some voters received ballots that have the old primary date of May 19, others did not receive an application because their address was marked as “undeliverable” and the state’s vendor, Runbeck Election Services, included a folded piece of paper to secure the ballot instead of the typical white envelope.

Still, Raffensperger said state and local elections staff have performed admirably in their response to a rapidly shifting landscape, noting that the original March 24 election was supposed to be the first statewide use of a new $104 million voting system.

“When 2020 began, I knew we had a heavy lift, working to roll out our new, verifiable paper ballot system for all 159 counties for the March presidential primary,” Raffensperger said. “We accomplished that… but little did any of us know that we'd be facing this pandemic.”

With more than five weeks until Election Day, the secretary of state said the total absentee votes could surpass two million as voters avoid the polls and the coronavirus continues to be a threat.

For those who do show up, county elections officials are finalizing plans for in-person voting and associated challenges, including fewer voting locations, fewer staff and precautions to handle potentially ill voters.

Raffensperger said 33,000 face masks will be distributed to poll workers across the state and his office is working with counties to reimburse the cost of some supplies like wipes and sanitizer.

MORE: Georgia Elections Officials Prep for ‘Unprecedented’ Primary As Coronavirus Looms