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More voters are using absentee ballots. These 3 review panels will oversee that process
0407 ELEX
Voters are being mailed applications to vote absentee in the May 19, 2020, primary. - photo by Shannon Casas

Three review panels will process absentee ballots sent in for the June 9 primary as Hall County sees an increase in absentee voting due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Voters in the primary can select either a Republican, Democrat or nonpartisan ballot.

Two of the panels will review partisan ballots. Those panels will include Hall County Board of Elections members plus one member appointed by each political party represented on the ballot. Ballots to review will not be divided based on party but will be randomly split between the panels.

The third panel will review nonpartisan absentee ballots. That panel will include Tom Smiley, chairman of the elections board, and two members appointed by Chief Judge Kathlene Gosselin of the Hall County Superior Court.

Voter guide: Learn more about what's on the ballot and when and how to vote.

The panels will oversee ballots that are rejected by the tabulator, including those that have stray marks or are torn or damaged. Ballot review will be open to the public. 

“This election has had much more absentee by mail votes come in, and so we want to be prepared that we can get those handled quickly and efficiently, and so it would require the additional eyes and hands,” Elections Director Lori Wurtz said Wednesday.

Ballots that need to be duplicated will be copied manually with a pen to another ballot, Wurtz said. The original ballot will be marked with the word “duplicate,” to signify a duplicate was made, and initialed by the reviewer. Both ballots will be assigned the same serial number and kept on file for two years.

The panels will vote on the elector’s intent if it is in question.

“They will pass that around and look at it and have a discussion about what they think the elector’s intent was, and by majority vote they will make a decision,” Wurtz said. 

Georgia’s state elections board has made an emergency ruling allowing counties to begin absentee ballot processing on June 1, Wurtz said. Review will begin then, and panels will be called in as needed.

Although review panels have been used in previous elections, Hall County has received a higher than usual number of absentee ballot applications for the June election. Almost half of Hall’s registered voters had requested an absentee ballot as of April 30. 

An absentee ballot application is available on the county website.

Wurtz said most voters are receiving their ballots within five to seven days of requesting one, although some ballots are taking longer. Voters can check the status of their absentee ballots by calling 770-531-6945 or emailing elections@hallcounty.org. At the voter’s request, the elections office can cancel a ballot and issue a new one if needed.

The last day the elections office can mail out an absentee ballot is June 5. Ballots must be returned by 7 p.m. June 9 and can be mailed or put in the drop box outside the Hall County Government Center at 2875 Browns Bridge Road in Gainesville. 

Early voting for the primary began Monday, May 18, at Gainesville Exploration Academy, 1145 McEver Road in Gainesville. Wurtz said 216 voters had cast their ballots there as of noon May 19. 

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