MOULTRIE, Ga. — On the same day that Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger urged Georgians to use mail-in absentee ballots, the Colquitt County Registrar’s Office received a drop-off box for voters to put them in.
The March presidential primary and the May general primary were both moved to June 9 due to concerns about the coronavirus. While concerns are less now, they aren’t gone, and the start of in-person early voting on Monday was marked by delays and long lines linked to COVID-19 precautions, Raffensperger said in a press release Wednesday.
“While we understand the Georgia tradition of in-person voting and look forward to returning to normal in-person voting in future elections, the extra precautions necessary to preserve voter and poll worker health during the pandemic will result in long wait times and an increased health risk that could be avoided through absentee ballots for this election," Raffensperger said.
Colquitt County Registrar Paula McCullough said Wednesday afternoon that 138 people have cast in-person votes since early voting began Monday, so lines have not been long here. Part of the reason, she thinks, is that the early voting equipment is set up in the Colquitt County Courthouse Annex, which is open to the public only from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
County buildings are scheduled to return to normal operation on June 1, the start of the final week of early voting, so she said participation may pick up after that.
In the meantime, McCullough said she’s sent absentee ballots to 4,480 Colquitt County voters, and 1,827 of them have been returned, either through the mail or in person.
Statewide, nearly 1.5 million Georgians have requested absentee ballots. Of those, county election officials have already collected about 400,000 completed absentee ballots. That’s almost twice the absentee ballots cast in 2018’s high-turnout gubernatorial race.
“We’ve never had the absentee ballots like this,” McCullough said. “It’s been a lot of work.”
On Wednesday, the county received a drop-off box that will be placed outside the back door of the Courthouse Annex. Voters can put their competed absentee ballots in that secure box, saving the cost of postage and avoiding any need to enter the building.
The push by Raffensperger for more voters to choose mail-in ballots comes despite President Donald Trump bashing the method Wednesday, calling it ripe for voter fraud. The president threatened to withhold federal funds for Michigan after that state – like Georgia – began sending absentee-ballot request forms to all its registered voters.
Raffensperger announced in mid-March that his office would send absentee ballot request forms to Georgia’s roughly 6.9 million voters. He has also created an advisory group for mail-in voter fraud, though critics have blasted that move as voter intimidation and unnecessary due to the lack of evidence of widespread absentee voter fraud in the state.
Beau Evans of Capitol Beat News Service contributed to this report.