Tech glitches keep Atlanta voters waiting for mail ballots

The election director for Georgia’s most populous county said Thursday that technical issues have prevented officials from processing absentee ballot applications sent in by email, causing a backlog of thousands of pending applications ahead of the June 9 primaries.

Voters in Fulton County, covering Atlanta and its northern and southern suburbs, have complained of weeks of waiting with little or no information. The issue highlights growing pains Georgia counties are experiencing from the state’s big shift toward absentee voting by mail amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Election Director Richard Barron made the remarks at a video conference meeting of the Fulton County election board. He said that while the county was largely caught up with ballot applications sent through the mail, processing emailed applications has caused “a lot of difficulty.”

First a “deluge” of email applications essentially froze the county email accounts where they’re collected because “there was so much memory taken up from all of the attachments,” Barron said. Then, he said, various types of attachments, including some with movie files, jammed up printers.

Barron said the county has received nearly 27,000 emails containing applications, though he said he couldn’t give a total number of applications because some contain applications for multiple people while others are potential duplicates. Only about 3,000 of them have been able to be processed so far, he said.

Barron said that a workaround is being implemented and that the county should be caught up on the processing of email applications by next week. He said workers from other areas of county government are being brought on to help and that staff are working overtime to get caught up.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office said in a news release Thursday that nearly 1.4 million absentee ballot requests have been processed so far across Georgia. Of those, over 1.3 million ballots have been mailed out and more than 1.1 million have been delivered to homes. The release says more than 278,000 voted ballots have been returned to counties.

Raffensperger estimates that up to half of all voters will vote absentee by mail in the June 9 election, when only about 5-7% of voters typically do so, according to the release.

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, encouraging as many as possible to vote by mail.

In-person voting will still be available for those who need or want it, though fewer polling places than usual will be in use.