Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Monday outlined steps election officials are taking to curb long lines and issues with mail-in voting requests ahead of the Nov. 3 general election.

Capitol Beat News Service
This story also appeared in Capitol Beat News Service

Around 6,000 poll workers have been recruited with help from the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the American Civil Liberties Union to boost staff numbers at polling places after many poll workers abstained from the June 9 primary due to health risks from COVID-19, Raffensperger said.

To head off technical issues and equipment gaps, Raffensperger’s office has sent spreadsheets to county election officials so they can track inventory and training needs to smooth over any future hiccups quicker than was done during the primary.

County election officials have also started tapping grant funds to install drop boxes for voters to deposit absentee ballots rather than vote in-person on Election Day, Raffensperger said. So far, 175 drop boxes have been installed in the state.

Additionally, Raffensperger’s office is set to launch an online absentee ballot request portal in the coming days to ease the burden local election officials had ahead of the June 9 primary to process a wave of mail-in ballot requests.

Overall, Raffensperger said local officials and poll workers should be better equipped to handle potential technical issues that may crop up on Election Day based on lessons learned from the coronavirus-impacted primary.

“While no election is ever perfect, it is likely November will have its issues,” Raffensperger said Monday. “We have dedicated time, effort and significant resources to make November a success.”

Raffensperger’s comments came during a virtual roundtable with most Republican members of Georgia’s congressional delegation and U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., ranking member on the U.S. House Committee on House Administration.

The roundtable also featured input from some election officials in Fulton County, where voters faced among the longest lines and technical issues in the state during the primary.

Mark Wingate, a Republican member of the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections, said the county will be back up to its full roster of 210 polling places on Election Day after several sites closed for the primary due to worker shortages and COVID-19 safety concerns.

He also said county officials received a flood of poll-worker applications after the primary, enabling them to now tap a reliable supply of workers to be fully staffed on Nov. 3.

“I can assure you that through the staff and the board and all the help from the county in particular, we’re ramped up and we’re moving this as well and as humanly possible as we can,” Wingate said Monday.

In Augusta, poll workers are set to receive an extra $40 per day in hazard pay to support increased responsibilities for workers to keep voting equipment clean and make sure people are spaced out in line to curb the chances for coronavirus transmissions.

“The last thing we want are overcrowded conditions in our polling places,” said Lynn Bailey, executive director of the Richmond County Board of Elections.

The roundtable also drew concerns from several congressmen over mail-in voting and the chances for voter fraud, echoing Republican criticism of widespread vote-by-mail efforts amid the pandemic that President Donald Trump has repeatedly highlighted.

Raffensperger, a Republican, stressed Georgia law requires voters to request absentee ballots before they can be provided and that all counties are required to match signatures before counting ballots.

Raffensperger noted around 500,000 Georgia voters will be automatically sent absentee ballots after requesting one for the June 9 primary. Those voters consist of people age 65 and older, disabled persons and voters living overseas or in the military, Raffensperger said.

The state is not sending out absentee ballot request forms to every Georgia voter for the general election as occurred ahead of the primary, though a few counties like DeKalb have individually decided to send out those forms to all local registered voters, Raffensperger said.

With huge numbers of people expected to vote by mail across the country during the pandemic, Christy McCormick of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission said absentee voters should plan to mail their ballots no later than a week before Nov. 3 to avoid the possibility of slowed postal services.

“They do claim that they are going to give election mail special priority,” McCormick said of the U.S. Postal Service. “We’ll have to see how that goes.”

Georgia voters can start mailing in their absentee ballots on Sept. 15. Early voting for the Nov. 3 election begins on Oct. 12.

Beau Evans reports for Capitol Beat News Service, a service of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.