The U.S. Postal Service says local management is aware of concerns that some Georgians have over mail delays and reports of undelivered mail, with a general primary coming up on May 21, 2024. March 4 was the first date that voters could request an absentee ballot for the primary and requests must be returned by May 10. Absentee ballots must be received by the county board of registrars by 7 p.m. on election day for the general primary (May 21). The secretary of state's office estimates about one-third of Georgia's 7 million active voters will participate, and there's some worry these delays could cause issues with absentee voting.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger joined GPB’s Morning Edition host Pamela Kirkland to share his thoughts about the problem and what actions voters should take to minimize delays.



Pamela Kirkland: Secretary Raffensperger, what should voters plan on doing to avoid their ballots getting caught up in this mail mess and these USPS delays that we're seeing.

Brad Raffensperger: First of all, we have a cutoff period. Make sure you request your absentee ballot, you know, with — within that window of time. But we also have a program called Ballot Trax. That's T-R-A-X. And I would encourage everyone to sign up. It's free, but you can actually track your absentee ballot through the process.

So what you would see is, when the county receives it, they check it off and you see what that date is. Then you'll see when the county sends back and say, "Oh, they sent it back the next day’"or two days later, whatever that is. But then you'll know that's when it went out. And if you haven't seen your absentee ballot, you know, back at your house, in your mailbox, say, in three to five days, you can start asking, what happened to it? You know, I would think seven [days] at the absolute most. It depends where you are. You know what your typical mail service is, and you can call your local post office.

But what we are seeing right now — this has happened in a few counties. So, we've done the back office check: When did the voter actually request the ballot? Did they do it within the — within the requirements of law? Yes, they did. When did the counties get it and when did they turn it around? They hit all those numbers, too. So the issue is not the county or the voter. It's actually the United States Postal Service. So what the voters can do next is call their congressman, call their U.S. senator, and call 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and ask them to fix the United States Postal Service. We have to get this fixed. We have the May general primaries coming up.

And then in November, we're going to have well north of 5 million voters coming out. We had 5 million voters that voted. Now we are back to about 6% [absentee], but 6% of 5 million? That's still 300,000 people that are voting absentee. We need to make sure that the United States Postal Service does their job and gets those ballots back to voters, and they all should know that they can get their ballot back in. So it's the request, and it's also the ballot process, because once the ballot goes back in, then they actually record — the county records that they got it.

And if you have any questions about the county actually getting it, because that's the other thing, you're waiting for your application. Obviously that goes into the ballots going through the system, but you want to make sure that the county's marked off that it actually arrived. What if it hasn't arrived to them? You — it doesn't get to you, but what if it doesn't get back to them? So you had it on both sides of the equation there. So, you can always drop that off at the county, but many times you're voting absentee ... because you don't have mobility there or whatever reason. But that may be something you have to work around if the Postal Service does not get its act together. So I'd say call your congressman, your U.S. senator and call 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Pamela Kirkland: Voters are facing reduced ballot drop box access after SB 202 was signed into law after the last presidential cycle. So if drop box usage is being encouraged as an alternative to returning ballots by mail,  what would you say to those voters who are facing either restricted access, or perhaps now have just a longer drive to find a ballot drop box that they can return their absentee ballot?

Brad Raffensperger: Well, during 2020, we had a huge upswing of the absentee ballots. We were probably pushing 30% to 35% for some of the some of the elections that we had over that cycle. But if you look at the 2022 [cycle], we're back to about 6%. That's a historical number. So that's really what we're expecting. We'll actually get a better feel for that when we see the May general primary and how many people, what percentage, vote that way. 

But also what the General Assembly worked on SB 202: They wanted to have, you know, something that made some, you know, logical sense. And one is to make sure that every county had one. During 2020, there was about 30 to 40 counties that did not have a single absentee ballot drop box. So now all 159 counties have to have at least one drop box, and every county gets one per 100,000 voters. So the bigger counties will have more, and smaller counties will have one. And if you live in a county under 100,000, that'll probably be at your county election office.

Pamela Kirkland: Yeah. And process-wise, I mean, ... are there are there any concrete steps that your office can take on this issue? For example, is there something like a constitutional officer that could be put into place?

Brad Raffensperger: Now that the law is the law and the General Assembly has a few laws that they're working through right now: legislation to update some of the elections code.  No. 1 that they're working on really is concerned in making sure that there's no foreign funding of state elections. There's a federal prohibition on federal elections, but there's no prohibition for state elections. And we think that needs to be put in place, because with Biden's open border policy, people are really concerned about out-of-control illegal immigration. But that — the corollary, or what goes along with that, is people are concerned about noncitizen voting.

So we want to make sure there isn't foreign funding. We also want to make sure there's not foreign lobbyists that are working for an organization, and they're not registered with the state. We want to look at closing that loophole. So we're working on that. We also believe that we should have a constitutional amendment. We'll have to work on that next session because it won't be passing this session. Because right now we're being sued by organizations like the New Georgia Project, which was founded by Stacey Abrams, and the coalition for the People's Agenda. There's a lawsuit to stop us from doing citizenship verification before you put people on the voter rolls. Well, right now we know that we don't have noncitizens on the voting roll because we're catching them through the Department of Driver's Service's, you know, process of verification. It's a good process. It's a fair process. It's ensuring that we only have American citizens on the voter rolls.

Pamela Kirkland: How many noncitizens has your office found on the voter rolls?

Brad Raffensperger: We have found they were never — the answer, actually the best answer, to our recollection, is zero. But we found 1,632 that attempted to register, and then they were in the holding bin until these people could prove that they actually had, somehow naturalized. So we went through the same data that and the federal records that they also have for immigration to just try and verify that between about 1,600 that attempted to register. And then that's why we believe it's really good that the process we have with the Department of Driver's Services, and now we're being sued to stop that, and that would have been 1,600 people that would be put on the voter rolls. That's 1,600 people that then potentially could have voted. And that really could cause severe hardship to those folks because when they go for their citizenship, you know, final review, if they ever vote in an election, it actually could nullify their ability to ever become an American citizen. But also, it diminishes the value, the priceless franchise of citizenship and the ability to be the only people that voted in Georgia are American citizens. And that really should be nationwide.

Pamela Kirkland: What should voters do if they request an absentee ballot, but they don't receive it?

Brad Raffensperger: I think, call the county to ask them if they're having any issues. Say, "Did you receive it?" And then — and if you did Ballot Trax, you would know if they've actually sent, they've received it, your application and all that. That would help an awful lot. But call the counties and ask them if they received it. And if they say, "yes, we have," [then ask] "Did you sent it back out?" "Yes we have." And then "When did you send it out?" And then find out was it three days or was actually three weeks. And then you have to look at when is — when's the next day — when is voting day approaching? You may have to show up in person. Hopefully you still have a few days of early voting left so you can kind of pick your schedule. Otherwise you'd have to show up on Tuesday. If you do show up on Tuesday and on Election Day, by law, lines have to be shorter than one hour. That's been really positive. The counties are doing a great job of meeting that.

Pamela Kirkland: And hopefully these delays are resolved before — well before we get to the general election.

Brad Raffensperger: Absolutely.

Pamela Kirkland: It's not the first time —

Brad Raffensperger: That's why we're shining a —

Pamela Kirkland: Sorry, go ahead.

Brad Raffensperger: That's why we're shining a light on the United States Postal Service, because that's something that's a federal responsibility. And they need to live up to their responsibility and their duty to make sure that people get their mail on time — and definitely people get their ballots on time.

Pamela Kirkland: So I wanted to ask because it's not the first time there have been concerns around mail-in ballots. Do you worry that issues like this, what we're seeing with these mail delays, makes people worry about the process of counting absentee votes, and fosters a lack of trust in the system?

Brad Raffensperger: It's really important for every, you know, wheel in the cog is always — every cog in the wheel is always working. Because as soon as one cog doesn't, all of a sudden you have slippage in the system. And we want to make sure that it's really tight. So we tell the feds to tighten up and get it right, because if they do that, then that's one area — because we know that the counties have done a good job. We've done the check-up of what these allegations were made, what happened. So we've gone back, and we checked the counties. They're doing their work. The voters did their work. The feds have dropped the ball. And so that's really something that hurts confidence. And confidence builds trust. And trust is the new gold standard.

Pamela Kirkland: Secretary, what can you tell us about how votes are going to be counted and how quickly those voting results are going to be made visible to the public this time around?

Brad Raffensperger: Well, we actually are working on a bill right now. We intend to — we're praying that we get it over on Day 40. But that looks like it's going to get favorable airing and I think it will have bipartisan support. It's really that — as the counties are receiving results, that night. So obviously we want all of the absentee votes that were received before the Tuesday — so anything received really at that Friday afternoon, that would all be tabulated. So that would have been all scanned. And then — and then you would tabulate.

We really would love to see them go ahead and sequester and tabulate early. But ... if they did, at 7 p.m., they can then get those up by 7:30 to 7:45 at the latest, those absentee ballots. All the early votes, you can press the tabulation button. In fact, Floyd County, Rome, Ga., they did that for the presidential primary. They got their early votes up at 7:02. So I gave them a shout out, you know, on one of my interviews; they heard about it and they posted on Facebook, and they're real proud. And they should be proud. That's great work. So that really helps. And then the election results that come in, what we're working with the counties on is, as you do, precinct-by-precinct and as they're coming in, start reporting those. Don't wait till you get a big, you know, big group of precincts. You know, precinct-by-precinct, just report your results so it's a continual upload instead of what we've seen: that big, you know, it looks like a big jump in numbers. Don't hold on to those. Report 'em as they come in as you verify the results.

Pamela Kirkland: Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, thank you so much for joining me on Morning Edition.

Brad Raffensperger: My pleasure. Thank you.