By Beau Evans
Capitol Beat News Service
Georgia Democratic Party leaders are pushing for state election officials to send absentee ballots to every voter and pay for postage ahead of the delayed June 9 primary as concerns over coronavirus remain strong.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office has begun mailing absentee ballot request forms to Georgia's roughly 7 million registered voters for the June 9 presidential and general primaries, which were previously scheduled for May 19. Once those forms are completed and returned, state officials will then send voters their absentee ballots.
That process is not proactive enough, say Georgia Democratic leaders. They are calling for Raffensperger to skip mailing request forms and go straight to sending voters their absentee ballots.
They are also urging Raffensperger and state officials to provide prepaid postage with the absentee ballots, rather than leave it up to voters to buy a stamp.
Those steps would help boost participation, confidence and safer voting practices while coronavirus continues posing severe health risks, said state Sen. Nikema Williams, who chairs the Democratic Party of Georgia.
“We just can’t ask voters to choose between their democracy and their health,” Williams, D-Atlanta, said in a phone conference Friday. “It is imperative that we do both.”
Williams and the party’s voter protection director, Saira Draper, also called for election officials to send out absentee ballots to all voters through the rest of this year, one of the busiest election seasons in Georgia history with local, state, congressional and both U.S. Senate seats up for grabs.
Delaying the primaries now set for June 9 will not be enough to ensure voter safety and integrity, Williams said, since it is unclear when the highly infectious virus will cease to pose a major public health concern.
“We support reforms, not continued delays that will be confusing to Georgia voters,” Williams said Friday.
Raffensperger has twice postponed Georgia’s presidential primary, which was originally scheduled for March 24. On Thursday, he announced a three-week delay of both the presidential primary and state and local primary elections that had been set for May 19. Every primary contest is now scheduled for June 9.
Raffensperger, a Republican, made the move amid mounting pressure from top Republican leaders in the state like House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, and all 11 of Georgia’s Republican congressional members, who said the May 19 date could imperil poll workers and voters.
The secretary of state’s decision also came amid reports that many poll workers, who tend to be older adults most at risk from the virus, might not show up on Election Day to protect themselves from infection.
“This decision allows our office and county election officials to continue to put in place contingency plans to ensure that voting can be safe and secure when in-person voting begins and prioritizes the health and safety of voters, county election officials and poll workers,” Raffensperger said in a statement Thursday