Another phase of a most unusual election season begins in Georgia on Monday as early voting locations open for those who wish to cast their ballots in person without waiting for the day of the general election.
For the next three weeks, a limited number of polling locations will be available for early voting in all Georgia counties, which has become the norm during elections. But that’s about the only thing normal about this year’s casting of ballots.
Hall is among the counties offering an increased number of early voting locations, in anticipation of more interest than usual in casting ballots ahead of time. Across the state, voters have provided plenty of indication that turnout for this particular election is likely to be higher than normal, and much of the ballot casting will be done before Election Day in November.
Already, Georgians have cast more absentee ballots than they did in the 2016 presidential election, and that number is expected to climb much higher. Some 1.5 million voters have requested absentee ballots, with more than 260,000 having already returned them. In Hall County, elections officials have sent out about 26,000 absentee ballots to voters and about 5,000 have been returned so far.
If you prefer not to trust your ballot to the absentee voting system, early voting offers an opportunity to vote in person without having to deal with the lines that traditionally form at polling places on Election Day.
No matter how you choose to vote, nothing about this upcoming election can be considered routine.
The realities of the international pandemic caused by COVID-19 have many voters reluctant to go to the polls and be part of a crowd, creating the spike in interest in alternative forms of voting. Those who do vote in person should expect precautions against the virus, including social distancing in spacing of the lines, constant attention to cleanliness and poll workers wearing masks.
The pandemic is but one of the issues changing this year’s election process. Georgia also has a completely new style of voting machines, which have generated questions about security. And the president has publicly, and repeatedly, challenged the validity of absentee voting by mail, though there have been no credible investigative findings to support his allegations of potential widespread fraud in the process.
Some folks don’t trust the machines. Some folks don’t trust the mail. What’s a voter to do?
Times editorial board
Norman Baggs, general manager
Shannon Casas, editor in chief
The system works. While there have been instances of voter fraud and manipulation throughout the history of the country, starting long before the advent of electronic voting machines, no compelling evidence has been presented to show widespread fraud related to mailed ballots is likely.
Our democratic republic is built on a foundation of free elections, a concept that is a hallmark of the American way of life and one which many other nations envy.
More than in year’s past, however, it is important that all of those who wish to participate in this election become thoughtfully engaged in the process.
Knowing that the volume of absentee ballots cast is going to break records, and that on-time postal delivery of such ballots already has been questioned, it is important for those who prefer to vote by mail do so early to make sure their vote counts.
If you plan to early vote in person, be aware that the locations for doing so have changed from previous years, and be prepared to find anti-COVID precautions in place when you arrive, measures that are meant to keep poll workers and election officials safe as well as your fellow voters. The same is true for those planning to vote on Election Day.
No matter how you plan to vote, remember that those responsible for the holding of elections have encountered tremendous challenges as a result of the most unique election year in the nation’s history. Be patient.
And as always, it is vital that you be well informed before casting a ballot. If you are voting in person, know before you get there what you are supposed to be seeing on the voting machine. Review the ballot in advance to expedite the voting process. This year’s ballot will have three statewide questions included, two Constitutional amendments and a referendum. Do you know what they are, and how you will vote?
While the presidential campaign has certainly dominated the election cycle, voters also will be making decisions on two U.S. Senate seats and all congressional and state legislative offices, as well as some local offices. If you aren’t sure what district you live in or which candidates will be on your ballot, check in advance by visiting the websites of the local election office or the Georgia Secretary of State.
A wealth of information about the upcoming election can be found in The Times, both in print and online at gainesvilletimes.com/election2020, including recordings of virtual candidate forums for a number of offices. This information is more important than ever in a year when candidates have faced reduced opportunities for meeting the public. Make yours an educated vote by researching the candidates and issues in advance.
As voters, we all shoulder some of the responsibility for making the election process as smooth and as valid as possible. Do your part.