Macon Elections Officials Say Absentee Ballots Prompting Confusion
More than 1 million Georgia voters have requested absentee ballots but some who have gotten them are confused and have questions.
Plus, as the state copes with the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Brian Kemp’s “shelter-in-place” extension could affect the availability of poll workers for the June 9 election.
The Georgia Secretary of State’s office reports 700,000 absentee ballot packets have been mailed as of Thursday in a record-shattering request after 6.9 million applications were mailed to Georgia’s active registered voters.
Those familiar with using absentee ballots in the past noticed the white, inner privacy envelope is not included in those mailings from the state.
Macon-Bibb County elections supervisor Jeanetta Watson said a “privacy sleeve” replaces the envelope but the instructions that referenced the envelope were not initially updated to accommodate the “sleeve,” prompting confusion.
The sheet of 8-1/2” X 11” paper reads “Official Absentee Ballot” and is to be folded around the ballot before it is inserted in the mailing envelope.
It can be fastened with tape or some other method but does not have to be.
“The ballot will not be rejected, if the privacy sleeve is not included,” the secretary of state’s revised instructions state.
Macon-Bibb Board of Elections chairman Mike Kaplan also noted that the return mail envelope is now yellow and white, not just yellow.
“Please try to get the word out,” Kaplan told board members during their Thursday meeting.
The local postmaster has been advised of the changes and will be on the lookout for the ballots, he said.
Ballots requested from the Macon-Bibb Board of Elections will be mailed with the traditional white inner envelope which they still have on hand, Watson said Friday.
The board also is requesting about $4,200 from the county for two secure absentee ballot outdoor drop boxes to supplement the one inside the office at 2525 Pio Nono Ave.
Watson said the new boxes will allow voters to drop off ballots when the office is closed or to avoid person-to-person contact.
One box would go outside the board of elections and the other location has not been determined but needs to be under camera surveillance for security purposes.
Board member Henry Ficklin did not think the courthouse would be a suitable site as the presence of sheriff’s deputies could deter some voters, he said. Terminal Station is being considered as a possible site.
So far, more than 19,000 Macon-Bibb ballots have been mailed and nearly 1,200 already have come back.
The state is considering allowing counties to unseal and begin counting ballots before election day. Ballots might be tabulated early but no vote totals would be calculated or released until election night, Watson said.
“We would be able to at least start the process because that will take days if we get 20,000, 30,000 or 40,000 back,” Watson said.
“Think about those counties in Atlanta ending up with a hundred thousand ballots to open,” Kaplan said.
Georgians have been encouraged to request absentee ballots to cut down on crowds at the polls as the state continues to fight the new coronavirus.
Poll workers at risk?
The Secretary of State’s office is not providing Macon-Bibb County personal protective equipment for poll workers but grant money could be available to reimburse counties for what they’ve spent, Watson said.
This week, Kemp extended the shelter-in-place order to June 12 for those 65 and older or who have pre-existing health conditions that complicate recovery.
Watson said: “90% of our poll workers are in that 65 and older profile.”
The board discussed reaching out to teachers who might be interested in serving at the polls June 9, but Watson fears there is not enough time to adequately train a whole new group of workers. Plus, teachers are likely to be back in the classroom by the November presidential election, she said.
Just as Kemp’s orders have made provisions for “essential workers,” Watson believes exemptions will be made for poll workers.
For now, she feels the county should be adequately staffed for the June election.
“We haven’t had any of our poll workers who have chosen not to work,” Watson said. “We’re in good shape, as far as I know, unless things take another turn.”
No Sunday Voting
One of the first items on Thursday’s agenda was consideration of Sunday voting.
Macon-Bibb County Commissioner Valerie Wynn, a guest on the teleconference, voiced her concern about incurring more expense while revenues are dropping due to closed businesses.
“If we have a Sunday election, that costs extra money,” said Wynn, who cited the additional $377,300 the county recently approved for new voting machine equipment. “Folks, there’s no way we need a Sunday election. Everybody has gotten an absentee ballot (application) if they’re a registered voter.”
It was recommended May 31 – the day after Saturday voting May 30 – be the designated Sunday for voting but none of the board members made a motion to even consider that option so there will be no Sunday voting.
Early voting runs May 18 until June 5.
The board also learned the Bibb County School System has agreed to open Northeast High School and Bruce Elementary on June 9 so they are no longer scouting new locations for those precincts.