An emergency measure passed Monday allows elections staff to get a head start on absentee ballots for the June 9 election only, allowing them to start handling absentee ballots June 1.

Facing an avalanche of interest in absentee voting because of the coronavirus, county election administrators can begin processing – but not tabulating – mail-in ballots earlier under a new rule passed by the State Election Board Monday.

The emergency measure enables elections staff to get a head start on absentee ballots for the June 9 election only, allowing them to start handling the ballots June 1.

As of Monday morning, more than 1.4 million Georgians have requested an absentee ballot for the June 9 primary and over 360,000 ballots have been completed and returned.

For comparison, only 36,000 people voted by mail in the 2016 presidential primary election and about 250,000 mail-in ballots were processed in the 2018 governor’s race.

The unprecedented growth in absentee voting is partially a result of the state’s decision to mail an application to 6.9 million registered voters, partially due to concerns about spreading the coronavirus during in-person voting and will definitely add to the workload of county officials who run elections.

Ryan Germany, general counsel for the secretary of state’s office, said the rule creates a process that keeps things organized for elections staff while also allows the public to observe.

County election workers can only handle ballots in batches of 100 at a time, and at least three people must be present for the processing.

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An important thing to note is that the absentee ballots will not be tabulated until election night, like the rest of the votes that will be cast on the new $104 million touchscreen ballot-marking device voting system.

“With the new system, you're able to scan the ballot without tabulating,” Germany said. “It's similar to early voting, where if you go early vote in person, you scan your ballot through the scanner, but your ballot is not tabulated until those ballots are returned back to the county election office.”

Early voting is underway in Georgia and will look different than normal. Many counties have cut back on the number of voting locations, poll workers will have personal protective equipment and voters will face longer, social distanced lines and fewer voting machines.