By Beau Evans
Capitol Beat News Service
County election officials in Georgia will have the option of installing drop-off boxes for absentee ballots in the June 9 primary election under emergency rules the State Election Board adopted Wednesday.
The new option for voters to send in their ballots comes as coronavirus continues spurring concerns over the safety of voters and poll workers at precincts on Election Day.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office has already started mailing absentee ballot request forms to Georgia’s roughly 7 million registered voters in a move to curb in-person voting on June 9.
On Wednesday, the State Election Board approved emergency rules allowing country registrars to set up drop-off boxes for voters to submit their absentee ballots in person, rather than by mail.
Counties will have the option of installing one or two secure metal boxes at either the registrar’s office or other county property for the June 9 primary, said Ryan Germany, the secretary of state’s general counsel.
The drop-off box method will not be mandatory, Germany said. County registrars may decide whether to install them in their jurisdictions or not. But Germany said he expects widespread use of the boxes if counties have the option.
The state board also approved rules for securing the drop-off boxes, including how they are installed and overseen by certified elections officials to guard against tampering.
“Obviously, the security of the boxes is paramount,” Germany said at a board meeting Wednesday.
The rule approved Wednesday only allows drop-off boxes to be used for the June 9 primary, though Germany said the board could expand the option to more elections in the future if they want.
He also said Raffensperger’s office is looking at federal grants and other funding sources to help counties avoid having to foot the entire bill for installing the boxes.
Board members praised the move and eyed the prospect of permitting the drop-off option in future elections.
“I think this is a very good idea,” said David Worley, a board member and Atlanta attorney. “I’m anxious to see how this may play out in the primary and what we may need to do to use it later in the year.”
Election officials were thrown a curveball with coronavirus right as they were gearing up for the first statewide test of Georgia’s 30,000 new voting machines.
Raffensperger has twice delayed the originally scheduled March 24 presidential primary and pushed back all federal, state and local primary contests to June 9 due to coronavirus.
A huge surge in absentee ballot voting is expected with concerns over coronavirus unlikely to abate in the coming months. The option for all Georgia voters to request a mail-in ballot is only being offered for the June 9 primary so far.
Democratic Party leaders in the state have called for Raffensperger to skip the request step and send out absentee ballots now. They are also pushing to make expand absentee voting for the remainder of this year’s elections in Georgia.
Saira Draper, the Democratic Party of Georgia’s voter protection director, praised the move to allow drop-off voting and pressed Raffensperger’s office to lock in funding for counties.
“Offering limited-contact options to voters is prudent,” Draper said.