By Mark Niesse, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution #atlanta-ga (CNT)
Verifying, printing and mailing 1 million ballots spent time.
It’s taking longer than some Georgia voters expected to receive their absentee ballots.
More than two weeks after absentee ballots began to be mailed, voters say they’re anxious for their ballots to arrive in time for the Nov. 3 election.
“I am concerned. My doctor says, ‘stay at home.’ I cannot be standing in line with somebody because I’m high-risk,” said Brenda Rosser, a retired legal secretary from Duluth who remembers requesting her ballot in July. “I vote in every election. I will go vote in-person if my ballot doesn’t come in the next week or so.”
Election officials say almost all of the 1.4 million absentee ballots requested so far have been processed, and those that haven’t arrived yet should be delivered to voters’ mailboxes soon. Nearly 229,000 voters had returned their completed ballots to county election offices through Sunday.
Waits are caused by the time it takes to verify absentee ballot applications, package them and then mail them from Arizona-based Runbeck Election Services, which is handling most of Georgia’s absentee ballots.
Once ballots are mailed from Arizona, the U.S. Postal Service is usually delivering them to Georgia voters in three to four days, said Gabriel Sterling, voting system implementation manager for the secretary of state’s office.
“This is how long it takes at the beginning, when there were nearly 1 million requests to fulfil when the law allowed for mailing them to begin,” Sterling said.
Absentee ballots will be shipped more quickly now that the large initial batch has been completed, Sterling said.
From now on, voters should expect to receive their absentee ballots in five to eight days after the “ballot issued” date on the state’s My Voter Page.
Some of the confusion among voters was caused because the “absentee ballot issued” date doesn’t reflect when ballots were mailed. The “ballot issued” date is when county election officials processed an absentee ballot request.
Then the secretary of state’s office conducts quality control checks on absentee ballot requests and uploads them to Runbeck twice a week, Sterling said. Runbeck prints ballots, instructions and envelopes, then puts them in the mail.
For absentee applications submitted before mid-September, local election officials entered a Sept. 18 “ballot issued” date, but ballots were also mailed a few days before and after that date. Under state law, absentee ballots couldn’t be sent until 49 days before Election Day, on Sept. 15.
While most voters can expect their ballots any day now, voters in Gwinnett County might have to wait longer. Thousands of absentee ballots in Gwinnett hadn’t yet been mailed because of a large ballot envelope size that caused delays with the county’s New York-based vendor, Fort Orange Press.
Some voters, such as Rose Ciatta, whose ballots were listed as having been issued on Sept. 18 didn’t receive them until Saturday.
“I’d really like my vote to count. One way or another, we’ve got to make that happen,” Ciatta said the day before receiving her ballot. “If I can just get the ballot I’ll send it in immediately.”
Voters can sign up for text, email and phone call notifications to track their ballot’s progress at georgia.ballottrax.net. The service will let voters know when their ballot has been issued and returned to county election offices, using the same information available on the My Voter Page at www.mvp.sos.ga.gov. Voters who requested absentee ballots before the site went live will see a default date of Sept. 24 for when their ballot was sent.
Voters who requested absentee ballots before mid-September can consider calling their county election offices for help if they don’t receive their ballots by next Tuesday, Sterling said. For more recent requests, voters should allow about 10 days before calling election offices.
Absentee ballots must be received by county election election officials by 7 p.m. on Nov. 3, according to a court ruling on Friday. Ballots received afterward will be rejected.
How to vote absentee in Georgia
Voters can request an absentee ballot online at ballotrequest.sos.ga.gov or by returning a paper absentee ballot request. Paper absentee ballot forms are available from the secretary of state’s website, and many forms have also been mailed to voters by outside organizations.
Once voters receive and fill in their absentee ballots, they can return them by mail or at drop boxes scattered across the state. Voters can also deliver their absentee ballots directly to county election offices, but not at Election Day polling places.
Georgia’s deadline for all absentee ballots to be received is 7 p.m. on Nov. 3.