Georgia SOS asks for changes to state’s ‘no-excuse’ absentee ballot voting
By Raisa Habersham
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and county elections officials are calling for the General Assembly to reform the state’s no-excuse absentee ballot request rule, citing exhausted workers running multiple elections and strained county resources and budgets.
“Asking county elections officials to hold no-excuse absentee ballot voting in addition to three weeks of early, in-person voting, and election day voting is too much to manage,” Raffensperger said in a press release Wednesday.
That could mean Georgians may be required to provide a reason to receive an absentee ballot by mail – legislation the Georgia Association of Voter Registration and Election Officials would support.
“It would also help with the expense on a county budget due to the extreme cost incurred in the processing of a ballot from beginning to end,” said Deidre Holden, co-president of the group, said in the release.
While getting rid of no-excuse ballot voting could ease some stress on election workers, it would also make it increasingly difficult for some voters to cast their ballots. Voting groups have criticized Georgia’s voting laws, which require identification at the polls and an exact match law. No-excuse absentee ballot voting has been particularly useful for those who need easier access to the polls.
In 2005, Georgia passed no-excuse absentee ballot voting, which had been used by between 5 and 7 percent of Georgia voters, according to the news release. Before 2020, the state had seen a turnout lower than 300,000 absentee ballots.
But the COVID-19 pandemic has forced a surge in absentee ballot requests and in part contributed to long voting lines during the primaries in June.
“The way Georgia’s election system is set up under law, county elections officials are essentially required to run three elections simultaneously, one each for a population that wants to vote a different way,” Raffensperger said. “Until COVID-19, absentee ballot voters were mostly those who needed to cast absentee ballots. For the sake of our resource stretched and overwhelmed elections officials, we need to reform our absentee ballot system.”
Election officials say the state is tasked with running three different forms of voting – early voting, in-person and absentee ballot voting – requiring them to split their focus, energy and resources. The issue has only been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing measures to ensure voters’ and workers’ safety.
“Reforming Georgia’s absentee ballot request process to only those [who] have a specific need would take a large burden off of the overwhelmed elections officials here in Lowndes County and across the state,” Lowndes County Elections Director Deb Cox said in the news release.