Long part of the voting process in America, absentee and mail-in voting is coming under serious scrutiny this election year.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted for voters that they have several options in casting ballots. They can mail in an absentee ballot, vote early at a designated polling location or vote in person at their precinct on Election Day, Nov. 3.
The options, particularly mailing in ballots, have raised concerns nationally about voter fraud and whether some races – particularly the presidential one – can be decided in a timely manner.
“Voter fraud is very, very rare,” said Nathan Price, political science assistant professor at the University of North Georgia. “We know this from studying it in political science. I think people imagine that it is much more common than it is. The thing I would assure people is that there are safeguards built into the process – you have to be registered, they have to verify your identity.”
Lori Wurtz, Hall County’s election director, said absentee ballots undergo a lot of research from the start, when voters request a ballot through an application.
To Vote Absentee
Completed absentee ballot applications can be submitted several ways:
- Mail to Hall County Elections, PO Box 1435, Gainesville, GA 30503
- Fax to 770-531-3931
- Email to email@example.com
- Place in the drop box outside the Hall County Government Center, 2875 Browns Bridge Road, Gainesville
“We verify that they are registered in Hall County and are eligible for the election,” she said. “Once it has passed through the channels and the signature has been verified, we then issue a ballot for that voter.”
Once the ballot is returned, “it starts back through the process of being verified,” Wurtz said.
Plus, officials make sure residents haven’t voted through another absentee ballot or at the polls.
“Once we accept (the absentee ballot), then they have voted,” Wurtz said. “If we accept it in our system and then the voter goes to vote in person or on Election Day, that voter will be marked as having already cast a ballot in that election. We try to pull that person aside and say we’ve already received an absentee ballot from you.”
Overall, “I have a lot of confidence in this process,” she said. “There are so many checks and balances.”
Wurtz’s office had sent out 27,137 absentee ballots, enough for 21.6% of active voters in Hall, and accepted 8,792 ballots as of Friday, Oct. 16. And 15,414 Hall residents had voted at one of eight polling locations by the end of Thursday, Oct. 15, or 12.3% of active voters.
Voting fraud appears to be a serious concern at the state level. According to the Associated Press, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office said in September it had identified about 1,000 cases of “potential double voting” in the June primary election. He said was determined to see the cases prosecuted.
Double voting is a felony that is punishable by one to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000, he said.
Concerns also have been raised about the U.S. Postal Service’s handling of absentee ballots. In August, the Postal Service, having cut overtime and late deliveries, began warning states that it can’t guarantee all mail ballots will be received in time to be counted.
In a statement from Rick Badie, Postal Service spokesman, if a ballot is mailed without postage or insufficient postage, “it is the Postal Service’s policy not to delay the delivery of completed absentee balloting materials, including mail-in ballots.
“We are proactively working with state and local election officials on mailing requirements, including postage payment,” Badie said.
Meanwhile, for people wanting to vote by absentee ballot, Price had this advice: “The post office is busy. The main thing for people who chose to vote absentee will be to get those ballots in sooner rather than later.”
The last day for a voter to request an absentee ballot, and the last day for the elections office to mail out absentee ballots, is Friday, Oct. 30 by 5 p.m.
Completed ballots must be turned in by 7 p.m. on Election Day to be counted. They can be mailed to the elections office, turned in at the elections office or an early voting location, or placed in the drop box outside the government center.
Georgia is one of 34 states that do not require an excuse from those who wish to vote absentee, as of the 2006 Georgia Code, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.