Secretary of State: Return Georgia mail-in ballots now

Georgia’s chief election official is urging residents to complete and send in their absentee ballots now instead of waiting.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Monday urged the nearly 1 million voters who haven’t returned ballots to do so.

“We want to get it off of people’s kitchen tables and back to your county election office,” the Republican said. The June 9 primary is two weeks from Tuesday.

So far, nearly 510,000 people had returned their ballots as of early Friday, while another 61,000 had voted in person during early voting. Voters can still request mail-in ballots through June 5, but are unlikely to have enough time to receive them by mail and return them by mail if they wait that long. Ballots must be returned to county election offices by 7 p.m. on June 9.

Raffensperger warned Monday that voters could face long waits if they attempt to vote in person either early or on election day because of precautions to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 respiratory disease and a shortage of poll workers.

“The shortest time you’ll have will be at the kitchen table if you vote absentee,” Raffensperger said.

Election officials in Fulton County, Georgia’s most populous, agreed last week to open polls earlier and expand voting sites after lines formed on the first day of early voting.

Fulton County is still running behind on getting absentee ballots mailed. That’s in part because the county is struggling to process more than 27,000 emailed requests.

Two smaller counties saw their in-person voting sites shut last week because of coronavirus infections. Appling County will reopen Tuesday after its office was closed Friday for cleaning after a voter tested positive for COVID-19. Several election workers in McDuffie County tested positive. Raffensperger said Richmond County is sending workers to help McDuffie.

The state has twice postponed primaries because of the pandemic. Georgia’s March 24 presidential primaries were first moved to May 19, when voters were set to choose party nominees for other 2020 races including a U.S. Senate contest. As infections and deaths mounted, election day was bumped back again to June 9.

In March, Raffensperger took the unprecedented step of sending absentee ballot applications to all 6.9 million active registered voters statewide.

“We would really encourage people to vote absentee because you just don’t know what the situation actually is,” Raffensperger said. “Georgia is still having COVID-19 diagnoses, just like we did last week.”